Francesca Colavita, Maria Rosaria Capobianchi, Concetta Castilletti.
They are the three women researchers of the Lazzaro Spallanzani Institute of Rome (National Institute for Infectious Diseases) that on 2nd February 2020, for the first time in Europe, managed to isolate the new COVID-19. An important step for the fight of this invisible enemy, a critical step for developing cures and a potential vaccine.
The occasion presented itself on 29th January, when the first cases of Coronavirus in Italy were reported: two Chinese spouses transiting in our country (after more than 20 days of hospitalisation, finally resulted negative to the tampon and therefore completely healed from Covid).
The diagnosis was based on researching the RNA of the virus on the first patients. And, suddenly the three researchers obtained the isolation of the virus in culture, as to say the patient's biological sample, in order to then analyse the cytopathic effect.
The genetic data on which the research activity of the three experts was based were theoretical data, available thanks to the publications of Chinese doctors.
A great satisfaction for the three researchers, particularly for Francesca Colavita, who reveals to Dire agency how stimulating it is to work in a place like the Spallanzani Institute: “In six years of full commitment I had the possibility to gain lots of experience both in Rome and abroad. And every time I’m in front of these huge events there’s always a lot of dedication, a lot of work and a lot of effort behind them, but there are also a lot of emotions. There are difficulties but also joy, because getting to a result like this is both personal and professional satisfaction.”
Francesca Colavita, after about six years of activity at the Spallanzani Institute, as well as several missions in Africa to face the Ebola virus epidemic, was today hired by the Institute in Rome, which asked the Molise Region to proceed with the hiring "in consideration of the vocation for research rather than for assistance, as well as for the praiseworthy professional activity it has ensured in the current health emergency of national and international importance".
Colavita, in fact, following a proposal for a fixed-term employment contract at the Spallanzani Institute, had sought greater "stability" by participating in a competition for a hospital company in Molise.
It was then that the National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome asked for the grant of the ranking in order to hire the researcher, defining her as "much more suited to research than to work in a hospital company".
The head of the team is Maria Rosaria Capobianchi, graduated in biological sciences and specialised in microbiology, 20 years working at the Spallanzani Institute, has been in charge of setting up and coordinating the health emergency. Especially, she explains to “Medicina e Ricerca” what are the risks for those working in the front line against the Covid-19 outbreak: “Fear is faced with training and apt security measures that allow us to check the risk. These kinds of measures are necessary in every laboratory where people work with biological samples, but they get particular attention in laboratories where viruses are cultivated”.
Finally, Concetta Castilletti, head of the emerging virus unity, specialised in microbiology and virology. She talks about her long experience as a "precarious" who has not, however, affected her passion for research in the slightest. She explains, in fact, to the Dire agency: "it's a teamwork, everyone puts on a brick and the whole laboratory participates in the realization of diagnostic tests and routine diagnoses".
The three researchers will receive the so-called "solemn commendation" of the Order of Biologists.
In short, an unprecedented pride for our country and, in particular, for the scientific community that, thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of the three experts, has been able to achieve an important goal in history.
A satisfaction for the female gender and for all the tireless workers that, just like the three researchers, sacrifice part of their own daily life to commit to hard work.
Lastly, a wish for the figure of the precarious researcher, often underpaid and forced to leave our country to obtain the due recognition which, unfortunately, is too often denied in Italy.
Translated by Francesca Cioffi
Original version by Simona Maria Destro Castaniti