Meet Davide Calebiro, European Journal of Endocrinology Award winner

 

Professor of Molecular Endocrinology and Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham, Davide Calebiro, is the well-deserved 2020 winner of the European Journal of Endocrinology Award. His award-winning research focuses on G protein-coupled receptor signalling in endocrine and metabolic diseases and he will be delivering his Award Lecture “Shining light on membrane receptors” during the e-ECE 2020 virtual conference on Saturday 5 September at 17:00. Learn about his career and what he will be presenting at the conference in our interview.

Can you tell us about your current position and research?

I lead a multidisciplinary research team comprising biologists, chemists, physicists, engineers and computer scientists, focusing on the basic mechanisms of G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) signalling and their alterations in endocrine and metabolic diseases. To study GPCR signalling in cells and tissues, we develop and use innovative optical methods based on FRET and single-molecule microscopy, which allow us to directly observe signalling events in living cells with unprecedented spatio-temporal resolution. My major scientific contributions include the discovery that GPCRs are not only active at the plasma membrane, but also at intracellular sites. Moreover, we could directly show that these receptors interact among themselves and with other membrane proteins to form dynamic nanodomains at the plasma membrane, which are important for their function.

Please tell us about your career path?

I studied medicine in Milan and Stockholm and obtained a specialisation in endocrinology and metabolic diseases from the University of Milan. Afterwards, I worked for about 10 years at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology of the University of Wuerzburg in Germany, first as a Humboldt Fellow and since 2009 as a group leader. I joined the University of Birmingham in 2018.

What are you presenting in your Award Lecture at e-ECE 2020?

I am going to talk about G protein-coupled receptors, which mediate the effects of several hormones and neurotransmitters, and are targets of at least 30% of all drugs on the market. I will introduce new innovative optical methods developed by my group that allow us to investigate GPCR signalling in living cells with unprecedented spatio-temporal resolution. I will then show how we used these methods to investigate some of the fundamental mechanisms at the basis of GPCR signalling, and clarify the pathophysiology of endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s syndrome.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in your research area?

Work performed over the last 20 years has revealed an unexpected complexity in receptor signalling. The big challenge is to analyse that complexity and build accurate models to explain how our cells communicate under normal and pathological conditions, so that we can develop innovative drugs that are more efficacious and have fewer side effects. This will require an enormous multidisciplinary effort, involving biomedical scientists, physicists, mathematicians and computer scientists.

What do you think will be the next major breakthrough in your field?

There has been enormous progress in structural biology. We now possess atomic details about the structure of receptors and other key signalling molecules. However, these are static snapshots. At the same time, we are have witnessed the very rapid development of advanced microscopy methods that now allow us to directly visualise single molecules with a resolution of a few milliseconds and tens of nanometres in living cells. The next major breakthrough is going to be the development of new methods that enable studying the dynamics of single molecules in real time with an even higher resolution, approaching that of structural biology.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I really like interacting with people from different backgrounds and cultures, all unified by a common scientific goal. And I particularly enjoy inspiring younger scientists.

Who do you most admire and why?

I like to read the biographies of famous scientists and Nobel Prize winners, and to be inspired by scientists and innovators who had a transformative impact on science and society.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists?

Work hard, read a lot, but don’t take everything you read as set in stone. And, quite importantly, find yourself a good mentor.

You can hear Professor Davide Calebrio's Award Lecture, “Shining light on membrane receptors” on Saturday 5 September, at 17:00. Find out more about e-ECE 2020 and register today.

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