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Spotlight on Dr Raffaele Ferrari

19 June 2018

Raffaele Ferrari

This week the spotlight is on Dr Raffaele Ferrari, Junior Research Fellow, Department of Molecular Neuroscience, UCL Brain Sciences.

Dr Ferrari was recently awarded the 2018 runner up prize for Outstanding Contribution to Dementia Research in the Dementia Research Leaders Awards at the Alzheimer's Society Conference (pictured).

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am a Junior Research Fellow, sponsored by Alzheimer’s Society, in the Department of Molecular Neuroscience at UCL. I am researching the genetics and molecular mechanisms underpinning sporadic frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

I collect DNA from clinicians worldwide who see patients diagnosed with FTD, a rather heterogeneous form of neurological disorder that affects behaviour and/or language output. I then generate genetic data to isolate genes and genetic markers that increase risk for developing this disorder. I also started, over the past four years, to develop bioinformatics methods to go beyond the pure “genetic result” and define the functional environment influenced by these genes and genetic risk markers to understand what parts of the cellular processes become impaired leading to neuronal death.

All this involves passion, dedication and persistence, and creativity.

Passion is the motor, the inner strength: this comes when one realises to have the opportunity to serve the community, to try and find ways to make patients’, their families’ (and also doctors’) lives easier. Diseases of the brain are devastating and finding ways to understand the biology of these disorders is critical to be hopefully able to apply this knowledge for developing preventive and therapeutic measures.

Dedication and persistence are needed to make things happen, collaborate proficiently with people worldwide, to co-ordinate large-scale projects, to interpret data, to divulgate results, to share a path with colleagues and peer professionals.

Creativity is part of the path: one needs to re-invent oneself constantly, adapt to technology. Everything is a system, an interconnected system that needs to be broken down, understood and then sensibly re-composed. Creativity also helps in making a better use of already existing knowledge.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I am entering in my fourth year at UCL. Before I lived and worked (also towards my PhD) in the US, Texas at Texas Tech University. I am from continental Europe (Italian/German) and have decided to move away from my comfort zone close to 13 years ago and embrace the life of a researcher ever since.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

The International FTD-Genomics Consortium – IFGC – is the initiative I am most proud of. This is an ever developing platform to study sporadic FTD in a multi-layered fashion: it is a large network of experts in the field (https://ifgcsite.wordpress.com/) that is creating a resource for the scientific community to improve our global understanding of sporadic FTD. It includes 45 research groups worldwide from North America, the UK, continental Europe and Australia collating clinicians, geneticists, bioinformaticians and, more recently, functional biologists.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

I am currently finalising a genetic project that may highlight the next piece of “genetic puzzle” contributing to the genetic architecture (or signature) of sporadic FTD. In this work, I am hunting for common and rare genetic variants hidden in the genome that globally contribute to disease pathogenesis.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Innuendo by Queen. This album represented a watershed moment for me, I was not the same person anymore. The way Queen did sound was something else, polyphonic, full (there was no single bit of the headphones free to welcome additional sound) and very harmonic…. and positively overwhelming… an undeniable source of energy, the soundtrack of my life (however there are many other bands, musicians and styles that have captured my interest and admiration).

Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather: many if not all shades and complexities of human nature in the palm of your hands…

Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray: an interesting and fine story, entertainment with style.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

There are 3 groups of people: those who can count and those who can’t.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

The emperor Hadrian.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Risk more.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

In my early 20s it was all about becoming a rockstar, period.

What is your favourite place?

Anywhere where nature is wild, majestic, breath-taking….