Nicola was born in Rome. He spent his childhood in the quiet town of Pisa, and his teenager and University years in its even quieter outskirts.
During his University studies, if he were in the US one could say that he did a double major in organic and in physical chemistry, without firmly deciding for any of the two until eventually landing in the field of macromolecular chemistry. Under the supervision of Francesco Ciardelli (one of the first Pisa graduates of Piero Pino, who previously was a key assistant Giulio Natta, the only Italian Nobel prize winner for chemistry), Nicola worked on photosensitive (photochromic) polymers for his Master's thesis and and on non-linear optically active polymers for his PhD; as a testament of Nicola's reluctance in keeping a clear disciplinary orientation, the Master's degree (laurea) was in (Organic) Chemistry (1992), the PhD in Industrial Chemistry (awarded 1996). During the PhD, he also managed to fulfill his draft requirements by spending one year in the civil service, dealing with restoration of artwork; his most fond memories are from the medieval/Renaissance frescoes removed from the 'Camposanto Monumentale' (monumental cementary) in Pisa.
In the last year of his PhD, he moved to the ETH Zurich, as a guest of the group of Macromolecular Chemistry (Dept. of Materials) then led by Ueli Suter. Nicola liked so much the group, the institution, the town, and the Swiss way of life that, when offered to stay as a postdoc, accepted and remained there until the end of 1997; during this period, he unsuccessfully tried to learn the intricacies of polymer physics, but became firmly convinced that it is complicated. Using a formulation that he later found in the Master thesis of a mentor of his, Nicola's use of polymer physics is similar to that of a drunkard for a lamp post: more for support than for illumination.
After a short spell at the EPF Lausanne -still in Switzerland, but in its fondue-loving part- he returned to Zurich to join Jeff Hubbell as an Oberassistent (position broadly analogous to Habilitant in Germany, or to Research Assistant Professor in the US), studying pharmaceutics, biology and medicine, discovering that water is solvent too, and starting the most productive part of his career to date. In 2003, Nicola crossed the Channel as he was appointed a Senior Lecturer at the School of Pharmacy of the Victoria University of Manchester (VUM); when in 2005 this amalgamated with the second university of Manchester (UMIST) to form the new University of Manchester (UoM), Nicola had just been promoted full Professor and chair of Polymers and Biomaterials. He was one of the last professors appointed in the VUM, with an old-fashioned process requiring 12 letters of recommendation from international leaders and terminating with a shake of hand instead of a signature in a contract.
Between 2006 and 2012 he learned to have fun as an editor, being editor in chief of Reactive & Functional Polymers (a journal of Elsevier), which he left when it was longer fun but a fully fledged job.
In 2010 he accepted a split position with the School of Materials, returning to the School of Pharmacy (now Division of Pharmacy and Optometry) in 2015 to establish the NorthWest Centre for Advanced Drug Delivery (NoWCADD), sponsored by AstraZeneca, which he directed until the end of 2017.
At the UoM, Nicola helped establishing the MRes course in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine (BBRSC grants: BB/H015868/1 and BB/H021205/1), the NOWNANO Doctoral Training Centre ("A North West Nanoscience Doctoral Training Centre"; 2009-2018; EPSRC grant: EP/G03737X/1) and the Centre of Doctoral Training in Regenerative Medicine (2014-running; co-director 2014-15, director 2016-17; EPSRC/MRC grant EP/L014904/1).
In 2017 he has joined the IIT in Genova as a tenured Senior Researcher, retaining part-time position in Manchester. In May 2020 he has been nominated IIT Deputy Director for Education.
Nicola has published >160 research papers, and has an h-index of 45 (Google Scholar).
Selected recent publications:
F. El Mohtadi, R. d’Arcy, J. Burke, J.M. Rios De La Rosa, A. Gennari, R. Marotta, N. Francini, R. Donno, N. Tirelli, “A ‘tandem’ nanomedicine approach against osteoclastogenesis. Polysulfide micelles synergically scavenge ROS and release rapamycin”, Biomacromolecules, 21 (2020) 305-318. DOI: 10.1021/acs.biomac.9b01348.
J.M. Rios de la Rosa, P. Pingrajai, M. Pelliccia, A. Spadea, E. Lallana, A. Gennari, I.J. Stratford, W. Rocchia, A. Tirella, N. Tirelli, “Binding and internalization in receptor-targeted carriers. The complex role of CD44 in the uptake of hyaluronic acid nanoparticles (siRNA delivery)” Advanced Healthcare Materials, 8 (2019) 1901182. DOI:10.1002/adhm.201901182.
M. Geven, H. Luo, D. Koo, G. Panambur, R. Donno, A. Gennari, R. Marotta, B. Grimaldi, N. Tirelli, “Disulfide-mediated bioconjugation. How to control their formation and re-structuring on nanoparticle surfaces”, ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, 11 (2019) 26607-26618. DOI: 10.1021/acsami.9b07972
E. Lallana, J.M. Rios de la Rosa, A. Tirella, M. Pelliccia, A. Gennari, I.J. Stratford, S. Puri, M. Ashford, N. Tirelli “Chitosan/hyaluronic acid nanoparticles: rational design revisited for RNA delivery”, Molecular Pharmaceutics, 14 (2017) 2422–2436. DOI: 10.1021/acs.molpharmaceut.7b00158
A. Gennari, C. Gujral, E. Hohn, F. Cellesi, N. Tirelli “Revisiting boronate/diol complexation as a double stimulus-responsive bioconjugation”, Bioconjugate Chemistry, 28 (2017), 1391-1402 DOI: 10.1021/acs.bioconjchem.7b00080
J.M. Rios de la Rosa, A. Tirella, A. Gennari, I.J. Stratford, N. Tirelli, “The CD44-mediated uptake of hyaluronic acid-based carriers in macrophages”, Advanced Healthcare Materials, 6 (2017) 1601012. DOI 10.1002/adhm.201601012
J. Burke, R. Donno, S. Cartmell, N. Tirelli, “The effect of branching (star architecture) on poly(D,L-lactide) (PDLLA) degradation and drug delivery”, Biomacromolecules, 18 (2017), 728-739 DOI: 10.1021/acs.biomac.6b01524
A. Gennari, M. Pelliccia, R. Donno, I. Kimber N. Tirelli “Mannosylation allows for synergic (CD44/C-type lectin) uptake of hyaluronic acid nanoparticles in dendritic cells, but only upon correct ligand presentation”, Advanced Healthcare Materials, 5 (2016) 966-976 DOI:10.1002/adhm.201500941
Nicola has received a Bessel award from the Humboldt foundation in 2004, was EPSRC Advanced Research Fellow 2005-2010 and visiting professor at the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Surfaces (Golm, Germany; 2004) and at the Institute of Biomaterials Science, Helmholtz Centre Geesthacht (Teltow, Germany; 2012).