Francesco Nicassio is Senior Researcher at IIT, Principal Investigator of the Genomic Science research line. Scientific interests are centered on the exploitation of genomic approaches to the study of mechanisms in control of gene expression dynamics provided by non-coding RNAs (microRNAs and long noncoding RNAs) and their impact on cell behaviour and human disease, with emphasis on Cancer.
He graduated in Biology at the University of Bari, then moved in Milan at the European Institute of Oncology (IEO- Milan), as a student enrolled in the Open University PhD program in Life Science, awarded in 2005. He moved to IFOM in Milan for post-doc in Pier Paolo Di Fiore’s lab (2005-2010), identifying novel genes and transcriptional signatures deregulated in human cancers and useful for the prognostic stratification of breast and lung cancer patients. He worked as Scientist of the Molecular Medicine Program with prof Di Fiore (2011-2012) and, jointly with clinicians at the European Institute of Oncology (IEO- Milan), he developed one of the first signatures of circulating miRNAs, effective in identifying asymptomatic early-stage lung cancers and developing into a clinical grade test to be used in large-scale cancer screenings. Since 2012, he joined the Center of Genomic Science at Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT), as Researcher and leading his own scientific group, focusing on microRNAs and regulatory non-coding RNAs. Since 2017 is the Coordinator of the Center of Genomic Science (CGS) of IIT@SEMM in Milan, supervising, directing and managing scientific activities of CGS and related infrastructure (approx. 30 people). In 2022, he has been tenured as Senior Researcher.
He is recognized for the key contribution in the field of non-coding RNAs, in particular for characterizing the function and regulation of microRNAs in the gene expression regulatory network. After pioneering the exploitation of circulating microRNAs for diagnostic purposes in cancer, he has recently brought to attention the mechanisms of miRNA degradation, highlighting the involvement of a novel mechanism, termed Target-Dependent miRNA degradation (TDMD), to whose discovery his lab decisively contributed. Recently, he has implemented technological platform for RNA research in IIT and developed ad hoc tools for their application to human disease and clinical research.
Our platforms include i. Nanopore Sequencing, a single-molecule sequencing platform allowing multi-modal analysis of transcripts, mapping isoforms, RNA processing events and the study of RNA modifications; ii. Single-Cell Multi-omics, which combine transcriptional and epigenetic analysis at single-cell resolution, useful to deconvolve the cellular and molecular heterogeneity and characterize gene-regulatory networks (GRNs) within sub-populations; iii. a CRISPR-based platform, to perform genetic screens aimed at identifying molecular targets effective in cancer phenotypes, including growth, migration, drug tolerance and tumour initiation in vivo.