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Sara De Biasi and Andrea Cossarizza (UNIMORE)

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About this episode

#6 — Season 3. Sara De Biasi and Andrea Cossarizza from the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia (UNIMORE) chat with Peter O’Toole about how they were able to quickly respond to news of a novel coronavirus as early as January 2020, and how their work was crucial to understanding the effect of COVID-19 on the immune system. They also discuss the pros and cons of moving abroad or staying where you are to pursue a career, as well as achieving a good work-life balance. Sara and Andrea also reminisce about the first flow cytometers they worked with and leave us with some important life lessons.
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This is an automated transcript and may not be 100% accurate.

Intro/Outro (00:00:00):
Welcome to Flow Stars, candid conversations between Dr. Peter O’Toole and the big hitters of Flow cytometry brought to you by Beckman Coulter at Bitesize Bio.

Peter O’Toole (00:00:11):
Hi today on Flow Stars, I’m joined by Andrea Cossarizza and Sara De Biasi from University of Medina and Reggio, Emelia. And we hear about how they were able to respond so quickly to the news of the novel coronavirus. In the early days of the

Andrea Cossarizza (00:00:26):
Pandemic in January, 2020 for, to me, it was very clear what was going on, what could happen. And I spoke with some friends and police and a couple of them told me that we are going to see something that we, we never saw before

Peter O’Toole (00:00:47):
And how working alongside clinicians was key to getting data out as fast as possible.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:00:52):
That moment, I mean, the important thing to do was to tell people what was happening, how it was, what was the main things I was doing and so on and especially the most important thing that we have done. We have collaborated a lot with the clinicians.

Peter O’Toole (00:01:08):
We also discuss the pros and cons of moving abroad or staying where you are to pursue a career.

Sara De Biasi (00:01:14):
I am happy where I am because I, I can succeed here and I have everything to, to succeed because if you have ideas, you can also have the way to realize your

Peter O’Toole (00:01:24):
Ideas and how to make some interesting food choices seem more palatable.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:01:29):
It was the head of a goat one of the eyes was looking at me and I say, oh, well, fortunately there was some snaps in front of me. And so I bring three or four glasses of alcohol and I was ok

Peter O’Toole (00:01:43):
All in this episode of Flow Stars. Hi, I’m Peter O’Toole from the University of York and today on Flow Stars. I’m really excited. Cause I’m joined by Sara De Biasi and Andrea Cossarizza oh good grief. I can’t get the surname spelled. Right. Andrea pronounce it for me, please.

Speaker 3 (00:02:03):
Andrea is okay. Cossarizza? Everybody is not really able to pronounce the name even in Italian. So .

Intro/Outro (00:02:12):
Oh, Cossarizza. Shouldn’t be that difficult to say. It’s just me and names and I’ve only ever known you as Andrea and Sara. So it’s hard. So it’s really exciting to get you both here at the same time on the same day, cuz I know that you are yeah. You have really challenging jobs and you know, compared to some of us who have formulaic, you are on call for a lot of your time as well because the medical side, it’s not an easy gig, but do you know what I’d like to know? What got you into this to start with? So well you both went into science degrees if I’m correct. So Andrea, what was your first degree?

Andrea Cossarizza (00:02:56):
I’m a medical doctor and have PhD in oncology and specialization in clinical pathology. And in biochemical pathology, I have done also some immuno hematology by the way. So this is a long story long I’ve been studying for a long time too much. Maybe

Peter O’Toole (00:03:14):
Well, I don’t think you’ve stopped studying you certainly still researching, which is studying isn’t it?

Andrea Cossarizza (00:03:19):
I definitely, I mean you never stop studying, you see the books behind me. So, so it’s my, my favorite job and my favorite thing to read books.

Peter O’Toole (00:03:27):
I so, so you still prefer hard back, so real paper than the internet to reading.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:03:34):
Yeah. This is what we, we do or I do all time. This is my favorite hobby, as we said before,

Peter O’Toole (00:03:41):
That that is going to ruin one of my quickfire questions, but I’ll still come to it later.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:03:46):

Speaker 2 (00:03:47):
Sara, what about you? What got you into science? What was your first degree?

Sara De Biasi (00:03:51):
My first degree is biotechnologist, I’m a biotechnologist medical and pharmaceutical biotechnologies. I have a PhD in clinical and experimental medicine and I work here in the lab of so many, many years. So immunology is my first kick in, in science, I think. Yes, I, I felt in love with immunology during my, during my university studies, during the course of immunology, because I was really attracted by HIV virus and entry pathway on the CD40 cells. So I got my first love was immunology course

Peter O’Toole (00:04:35):
There. So from HIV how much research you’ll still researching on HIV. Yes, no,

Sara De Biasi (00:04:43):
Yes, yes we are. Yes we are. We are doing still researching HIV,

Peter O’Toole (00:04:48):
But how much is that diversified? Cause I’m also aware that COVID had a big impact on your work lives over the past few years. So how has that impacted and developed?

Sara De Biasi (00:04:58):
Well, a lot, but I think that one of the, of the sentence we are always used to say is, do not panic organize. And we did it. Professor Cossarizza was really, was really good in organized all the lab activity during COVID situation, during COVID pandemics. And we were able to carry on different studies beyond the COVID experiment and beyond COVID reserve. So we did also research in HIV and also cancer immunology. So it was, it was challenging because of course most of the time we were working on COVID, but we were also carrying on other project because I mean we are doing research in a very broad view. So not only, COVID not only HIV and not only cancer immun immunology. And, and this is because we, we are very good in organizing the lab, the activities, the people, the instrument and all the spaces we we place. Uh I remember since the beginning of the, the COVID pandemic that we place an order for the plastic I mean, professor can say that we we’ve, we, I mean, we had, I don’t know how many elevators full of plastics, Monza disposable for for the COVID pandemic, because I mean, professor Cossarizza was really good in foreseeing what was happening. And so thanks to this reason, we were able to, to work a lot without any, without an issue and continuously in, in the period. So organ, I think that organized people and lab and spaces is the most important things in the, in the lab. And in science in general, you have to have a clear view of what is happening who is doing what, and when the people are doing experiments and things.

Peter O’Toole (00:06:46):
And I, I say so, Andrea, I, I think this is really important to point out you foresaw that problem with plastic wear you brought it in, but it was vital because you also had some of the seminal papers around COVID and detection of COVID and cytometry and everything around it. And if you hadn’t have been able to do that, you wouldn’t have been able to do the research into COVID. That was so important either.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:07:10):
It is very simple in January, 2020 to me, it was very clear what was going on, what could happen. And I spoke with some friends and police and a couple of them told me that we are going to see something that we, we never saw before and this was happening. So I, we start to organize the lab to put instruments in different areas. So we can have a clean area, a dirty area and whatever. And we bought a lot of stuff, a lot of reagents antibodies material. This was mid January 2020, 1 month and a half before seeing the first patient that arrived in Italy, in Italy. We had some cases in Rome, there were two Chinese guys in in the end of December, 2019. And then the first cases arrived in Italy around 15 or 16th of February. So one month before we placed all the orders and we received all the start, the material that we needed. And we started to work me at the end. But before this, the question was, how can we manage blood from patients because nobody ever did here on Sarro two virus. I mean, and Italy was the first area in Europe coping with the virus. So what happened is that I had to take the responsibility to decide what to do and to manage my people and to manage the blood and eventually other material. But it was not so dramatic for me because I, I mean, I saw what was happening with the SARS 2003, something like that. And I spoke with some people who had worked with SARS virus, and I knew, I mean, I was pretty sure that we were safe and my people were safe and we could do the experiment in a safe way. So then but there were a lot of questions, lot of problems to solve. And this is why Sara was extremely clever immediately in the first day and the end of February, as soon as we had the permission from the ethical committee, we start to do the analysis and this was around March 10th, more or less. And since we were absolutely ready, we took maybe a couple of days to run the first samples and to see the first data that were publishing cytometry in middle of March, 2020. And then we start to do the job for the paper that came out few months later. And for the webinar that I gave for science in, at the end of April. . So on. So I had to say that well, okay, we, we understood what was going on and we reacted immediately, nothing more than this.

Peter O’Toole (00:10:04):
So have you had time yet to take a step back and actually do, do you have a sense of pride that you were able to be in that position and be so successful in responding to it?

Andrea Cossarizza (00:10:19):
Why this is my job? I,

Peter O’Toole (00:10:21):
I know it’s your job, but I think you should be very proud of yourselves and what you are, what the lab has delivered and the team around you. And it’s, you know, I think now one day way in the future, you might actually step back and go, yes, actually I made a significant contribution at a really important time that actually we all, you are always making contributions with HIV and oncology, but this was, this is one that the public is very aware of and you are front and center of that.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:10:53):
Well, then we are happy. what do I have to say? My people are happy me. I happy everybody of what we have done. We are not happy on the reason because we have of course, but we are proud. I mean, we have done a good job. Maybe we could have done something better. Cause I have a couple of papers that maybe could’ve been written differently or maybe publishing another other journals. But you know, what, what, what is important is in this moment, in that moment, I mean, the important thing to do was to tell people what was happening, how it was, what was main things I was doing and so on. And especially the most important thing that we have done is to collaborate. We have collaborated a lot with the clinicians, for the use of PAB, which is a anti drug that decrease the mortality in our place of about 70, 75%. And this was done immediately in March, 2020. That means almost one year before the couple of papers that showed in a control randomized trials that the drug was effective to block the infection and to block the hyper inflammation. So we are very proud of this cause we had done one year, almost one year before, and more, more importantly, we have saved a lot of lives with this,

Peter O’Toole (00:12:23):
That, which is, which is, which is why it’s so tremendous. And, and so actually from the community, thank you very much for doing that. And I think your lab has been amazing and a real, yes, lots of you, you know, you were in the right place at the right time, but you were the right people in the right place and the right time. And we should never take that for granted. And we certainly don’t take for granted. So you, you got into your science. Can I ask when you were, when you are young as a, a 10 year old, 12 year old around that age, did you see yourself as scientists then I’ll start with Sara for that one

Sara De Biasi (00:13:02):
Of course not. I to be a dancer, a classic ballet dancer, of course since Al party I was wearing to do every time. I, I, I did the ballet classical ballet, but my, my body was not for classical ballet. I was more for powerful sports. So at a certain point, my parents told me, okay, Sara, you are good in dancing, but maybe it’s not your future. You cannot, you cannot eat with dance. So maybe you go and do some something else. And so I, I mean, I did play volleyball and I wanted to live playing volleyball, but then I think that things were going to change, but of course not when I was 12 years old, really I wanted to do ballet ballet dancing.

Peter O’Toole (00:13:50):
So, so what got you into science then?

Sara De Biasi (00:13:54):
I don’t know. I think during the high school, I wanted to become a med medical doctors. And then of course I think as most of the people that become biotechnologist I think that choose to become biotechnologist because they want to be beyond the, the scenes and help with the translational aspect of science, because I think it is the, one of the most important and powerful things that we are doing. But yes, I think it was at the high school at the, at the end of the high school. I wanted to do this kind of, of job. And I had the quite clear idea of what I would like to become. I didn’t know if I would have staying in Italy or go or going abroad that I didn’t know. But then I found Modena and I find my second place. And I think that never in my life, I will go in a place in a, in a place different like this, because I, here, I, I really found the environment. I really like when, where I can have a real balance mental balance, first of all, and the balance between my private life and my life and where we can be really, I don’t know how to say, but really competitive with all the rest of the world. So I found my America here in here in model. I think I found my NIH. I found my my everything here.

Peter O’Toole (00:15:18):
Okay. You have to say that with Andrea listening, of course. Oh, I,

Sara De Biasi (00:15:21):
I, no, but I think, I think he knows that because every, no, no. I think he knows that because many times I told him this this story, I mean, when I was I think 21 years old during my first year of university, I wanted to go abroad because most of the people I knew went abroad America or UK or Germany or Asia Africa, or I dunno, everywhere. And there was a suffering because of that, because I saw that a lot of people went out Italy and I was really convinced not to go out because I, I, I really thought that here I could have my way. And and I, I felt really competitive and really, really international here because of collaboration because of story of the lab. So I really found what the, what did I, I’m, I’m really happy of this. I can say to all the PhD students find your way, because it is the most important things in your life

Peter O’Toole (00:16:21):
And well, and, and you have succeeded, so you didn’t have to go all.

Sara De Biasi (00:16:25):
No, no, no, no, no. That’s, that’s why. I mean, I, I, I, I am, I am happy where I am because I, I can succeed here and I have everything to, to succeed because if you have ideas, you can also have the way to realize your ideas.

Peter O’Toole (00:16:40):

Andrea Cossarizza (00:16:42):
I cannot throw anywhere. I mean, it’s impossible. I would like to have Sara somewhere for many years, but people don’t want to move. I don’t know why. Maybe they have too much fun

Sara De Biasi (00:16:52):
Here. Yes. And the food is good and the life is good. I mean, balance is the most important thing. So I know that, yeah. I mean a healthy, a healthy environment is what you can it’s helped you thinking. Well, I think

Peter O’Toole (00:17:10):
So interesting, Andrea, I think came to the UK and went to the US before, returning to Italy. Is that correct?

Andrea Cossarizza (00:17:17):
Yeah. I went to France, I’ve been in different places. So, but only for short periods, because I, I graduated in Padova, Padova University, which is one, actually, even now it is probably the best medical school we have in the country. And, I follow my professor when he came to Modena in the middle of eighties almost 40 years ago, but I decided to do immunology much time before in the, in the end of the seventies, because I was studying immunology. It was very fascinating for me. And, I had the opportunity to go to the Baskin Institute for immunology in February, 1979. And to spend a couple of weeks as a medical student, actually it was not really as a medical student. I was there because I have friends. So they, they took me around and I saw the, the Baskin Institute. And I said, okay, I like this. I want to do this finish that’s all. And then it happened to me to go to New York couple years later because I, again, I have friends there and friends of friends sent me to the NYU and I met nice people. And so I decided to immunology and that’s all, it’s my, my, my occupation.

Peter O’Toole (00:18:40):
And so, so you sample science in France, UK US. Yeah. Where’s the best place. Italy, France, UK, US

Andrea Cossarizza (00:18:51):
Course, Italy

Peter O’Toole (00:18:54):
Is the right answer.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:18:55):
Yeah. I mean Italy cause I’m here, but well I was in New York, close angel, London and Paris as a city. I mean, so there are different cities. I cannot say I love one more than another because I mean for, but I have a very, very good friend in Los Angeles. So I love to go there. I, I’m not going there since few years, but I love LA and the point is, how can you love LA? Because I have friends there. So I, they live in Westwood, which is close to UCLA. So we go, we went to work by walking and crossing the, the center of the city in the middle of, and that’s it. Then in New York when I was there, I was living in the villa’s in villa’s and I was working at NYU. So it means for maybe 30, 40 minutes walking through the city in London, I was living in Holland park, which is a great place. And I was working in the Royal free hospital, which is quite close. And in Paris, I was living in the center of the city in Rosa, Michelle, which is another nice day. So, I mean, I think that I have been very lucky in my life because I could for some reasons, I mean, I, I could join the fact that to live in a big city in a, to work in big places, big labs and with friends and enjoy life. When you walk, when you are 20, 22 or something like that, walking to walk in New York in Manhattan is an experience the same if you are in Paris or in LA, something very exciting. I mean, you have the, the, the capital or the world around you at that age,

Peter O’Toole (00:20:42):
Which, and it’s not just for work, Sara you obviously stayed in Italy. I I’ve stayed in the UK, but obviously we have conferences and we can go around and travel with the conferences. So I’ve gotta ask, what is your favorite conference? I’ll ask Andrea first this time.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:20:59):
Well, of course I CYTO. Of course we, we could not attend this year because of some technical, no problems and things that we’re quite complicated, but I’ve been to many, I have to say that I like conferences where you have a limited number of people let’s say less than 150, something like that. So you can really interact with people. And so, and there are many national societies that have meetings, especially in immunology or in cancer. And to go, there is something very, very useful because you come back with ideas, we talk with friend with discussions. And so on, going to a big meeting is nice, is fine. Absolutely. But you have to know what you have to do. I mean, you cannot go there because I go to the meeting. I mean, you need a plan. You need a, a schedule you need timetable and so on, which is quite different from, for small meetings. I mean, if you go to, I’ve been many times with HIV meetings in past years, I’m talking about 15 to 20,000 people in something big meeting is the same. So in those meetings, you, you can lose yourself. So I, I really suggest young people to go to meetings that are not that big and to meet people and to talk with people. But there are other meetings like CYTO that have a good dimension. You have maybe six, seven, 1000 people, six, 700 people, 1000 people, which is a big, but not so big, not that big.

Peter O’Toole (00:22:42):
Sara what about you? What’s

Sara De Biasi (00:22:44):
Yeah, I, I agree with that when professor Cossarizza, I mean, when, on CYTO, which really I love it and where I can find always friends and share the, the last technology. I mean, it’s a very familiar, it’s a very familiar environment. I really love to go to immunology meeting such as the European Congress of immunology, for example because I think that this is not, I mean, it is like a very good Congress, not big, but not so big, what you can find and you can operate I mean, we, where you can interact with people European people, but also people coming from from US. And usually it is very well organized, really, really well. And you can find all this immunology aspect you, you really like to, to know, and a lot of key keynote lectures done by really very good speakers and really nice overview just to review your knowledge and update your knowledge on your knowledges. So I really love the, the European Congress of immunology. Yeah. Be onsite, of course.

Peter O’Toole (00:23:49):
So we’ve talked about traveling with work, not traveling work. We talked about conferences. If you could work anywhere in the world, where would you choose or if you retired, where would you go and live anywhere in the world? I’ll start with Sara on this one,

Sara De Biasi (00:24:04):
Seaside for sure. I don’t know a place where you can have I mean you where you can stay well, where you can have a good weather not storms or not. So, so cold. I don’t know where I don’t have a perfect place in the world because I travel a lot, but I don’t have a favorite place. But I think that sometimes when I’m tired of working, I’m just repeating myself. Okay. I cut off and I go to Mexico. I think that Mexico is my favorite place. Even if I, I, I even not, I didn’t, I I’ve never been there, but Mexico is for me, something really nice to go. And when I’m, when I’m done, okay, I’m going to Mexico. I’m, I’m going to break coconuts on the, on the, on the beach. I dunno why I’m continue to say myself, these things, but I really love this.

Peter O’Toole (00:24:56):
That’s that’s interesting. Cuz C I don’t think CYTO’s ever been to Mexico. Has it?

Sara De Biasi (00:25:00):
No, I don’t think so. I don’t

Peter O’Toole (00:25:01):
Think I would go to Canadas next year.

Sara De Biasi (00:25:04):
Ah, maybe,

Peter O’Toole (00:25:05):
You know, so maybe we should just flip through after Europe, come back, down and flip through US and down into Mexico. Yeah.

Sara De Biasi (00:25:12):
Mexico is. I, I like it. I think they are very relaxed. They have siesta. They can, they can really be single task. When you are single task, you are very relaxed. You, you, you are not allowed to do many things in, in, in the same time. So you are very relaxed. And I think that Mexico could, could be okay for me.

Peter O’Toole (00:25:32):
So I’m looking at both of you. You’ve got an ISAC council member. We’ve got an ISAC past president, come on, pinch movements on, on the, on, on the new pres go and have a word with Rachel say, oh, we need to go to Mexico.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:25:48):
It’s not,

Sara De Biasi (00:25:48):
We can

Andrea Cossarizza (00:25:50):
It’s not so easy. I mean,

Peter O’Toole (00:25:52):
No, I know. And what about youre? If you could go anywhere, where would it be

Andrea Cossarizza (00:25:56):
Here? I am my place in Modena. I have no reason to, to go around, to move. I mean, we have plans to go Sicily after retirement and maybe to spend six months here, somewhere and six months here in, in Modena, but eventually is great, but the weather is sometimes humid and hot, but air condition works. So it’s then the, the, the six time we have a lot of friends, even too many. And so I don’t see reasons to, to, to go around, to, to live Modena. I mean, maybe to spend some months around the world would be nice going to Mexico or going to South Africa, which I love or to Australia, which is fantastic and not very close, but many parts of the world deserve a visit for deserve period to stay. And, but my life is here.

Peter O’Toole (00:26:56):
I love the passion and, and it’s good to hear. Isn’t it. It’s nice to know that you are in the place. That’s right.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:27:01):
Yeah, sure. And model is that we have a good, a good balance between the fact of being a city, but not a big city. It means that I can go by car from my office to my house in eight minutes, maybe nine, if all the traffic lights are red. And which is, if I can walk, there are four kilometers. I could work. Things would be not a problem. And so this is, I mention 200,000 people is okay.

Peter O’Toole (00:27:35):
Ah, so it’s a very similar size to York.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:27:38):
Yeah. Very similar. You can go to Bologna, which is an hour, even lights, like train, you go to Milan is one hour and a half by train. Rome is three hours. Florence is one hour and a half. So we are in a very strategic position in the north. So we can go almost everywhere and come back in the same day without any stress. And that’s okay in times to, to live

Peter O’Toole (00:28:04):
Next part. So we’ve talked about the research, but obviously you are also both really well known for your flow cytometry. So how did you get into flow cytometry and what was your first flow cytometer? And I’ll start with Andrea on that, cuz this is bound to be quite an old flow cytometer.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:28:20):
When I was in New York as a medical student in 80 19 81 for more than 40 years, years ago. And they had a very strange machine, I mean, very strange that time or something strange use usual stuff with some bottles here and there and something flowing in the, on the screens there’s log screens. Sometimes they then machines at that time were very similar to a Russian space ship or, you know, something like that. And I mean, I, I, I was absolutely not understanding what was going on. Clearly. I was just a medical student, but it was nice. And then I was, I approached flow cytometry in when I was after my graduation in medicine, in the mythology school because a friend of mine who was my, my companion, my mate I mean my, my friend in the same group he was working in [inaudible] and he had a FACS star flow cytoemeter was in 84, 85, something like that. And I was working with him. I mean, I was still, I was in modern already, but I went to Venice every second week or so to do experiments with him and to do to perform the very simple staining of peripheral blood cells. So for HIV, because at that time flow cytometry meant HIV. This was the, the, the, I mean that the program for HIV fight in Italy was the reason why a number of cities, a number of hospitals were buying flow cytometers for counting before cells. And this is what, how I started. And then we bought here a second hand, FACS scan, maybe 89, stuff like that, and then other machines. And then I was able to, when I had my grants and my, my money, I could start buying other instruments. And so I started to work with a part with thanks for very good collaboration of friendships with both Frank Good and good family. And we had one of 12 color of flow cytometers in 2003, something like that. Then we did nine columns nine. I mean, it was, the problem is not to do colors. The problem is what you have to do with something, which is the science for which you need technology not reverse. So, and we have done some time then a little by little, we, we have built quite a good FACS it’s not a facility, a good amount of instrument reagents and people.

Peter O’Toole (00:31:12):
So are how many cytometers do you now have?

Andrea Cossarizza (00:31:15):
Well, we have some, we, I’m not, I don’t think I can. I’m allowed to speak about that. People. We have a,

Peter O’Toole (00:31:23):
We have 3, 4, 5 different cytometers now

Sara De Biasi (00:31:33):
4, 4, 4, 5, 4, 5, 5. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:31:34):
Oh, bad for one group, as you say, you’re not a facility.

Sara De Biasi (00:31:37):
No, no, no. It’s not a facility.

Peter O’Toole (00:31:39):
No, no. So, so that, that’s kind of that that’s a big day. It’s a lot for a group. Yes. For facility. That’s a, that’s a good number for a group that’s a big number.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:31:49):
We can have more. Now we have plans to get some more. No, I mean,

Peter O’Toole (00:31:55):

Andrea Cossarizza (00:31:56):
Honestly I have collaborations with a number of companies. So we, we work with them, we set up new methods, new technologies we try to improve also the index and technology. And so this is why we have some machines and people are happy to work with me and Sara and especially with Sara more than me. And they, so this is why we, we, we build, we have a number of influences here,

Peter O’Toole (00:32:21):
So, Sara. It sounds like you are the, the person, that’s all the, the fingers, the hands on side of this. So what first cytometer and what, what got you into flow cytometry? Was it being there to start with? And it was there naturally, it went that way.

Sara De Biasi (00:32:34):
I was here in the lab and in, in this lab, there were cytometer. So I, I started to use cytometers at the beginning, I didn’t know really what to do with cytometers because they were like machines. But the, the, the, the good things is, is that I started with the Parex with a prototype that was, I mean, made here. So I had the, the chance, and I think I, I developed the knowledge during that period on really how these instruments are built and how to put ends in this instrument when the instrument did, did not work. So I think that is, this was kind of an opportunity, very challenging at that time. But in these days, I really, I was luck to be in in, in the lab, in the, in that period, because thanks to that period. Now, I have kind of a knowledge that I think that young people now they have, but they have to study. I, I put the hands in that machine. And I remember, I, I really enjoy that moment because it was changing the filters, changing the path, opening the machine, or, ah, the lasers are okay, open, close the lasers. I was really, it was very nice to me that that period, I was feeling like a nerd really. I I had,

Andrea Cossarizza (00:33:53):
Which seems slightly different from now because of my, yeah.

Sara De Biasi (00:33:56):
Now it always is automatic. You also sort, there are automatic. We didn’t have an automatic sorter at that period. Then we were measuring the delay and everything by, by hands and by beats and by counting. And it was kind of a crazy nightmare, but it, I think 10 year pass and the term, the technology is completely different by now, but I was lucky being that period in the, in the lab. I think

Andrea Cossarizza (00:34:23):
You can say also 20 years.

Sara De Biasi (00:34:25):
No, no, no. Not 20 years. No, no 15

Andrea Cossarizza (00:34:33):
More than 10

Andrea Cossarizza (00:34:39):
We. The first one here in, in modern 88, 89. So like that and a compensation wasn’t not there. I mean, you had to compensate some somehow in the, in the box with the hands pushing buttons, doing things like that on the machine, not on the computer. And this was something unforgettable when we were able to do three colors, it was fantastic. The first paper in, in blood in 1990s and 91, maybe with three colors was something really exciting for us. And then, and that I was in London before this, because in London, in the group of Marc Feldmann in the Charing Cross Science Research Institute, they had a dual laser FACS star that nobody ever used. I mean, they just was, they were working with one laser, two columns. So the second laser was for the [inaudible], and probably I also being the first guy using that laser for APC. If I remember where something like that and the paper came out in European Terminology in 89. So I can, I, I have the proof, so of what I say because I, I mean, we, we have done that.

Peter O’Toole (00:35:58):
I, I noticed you both said that you’ve been lucky.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:36:01):

Peter O’Toole (00:36:01):
Sure. But I think to an element, you created your luck by seeing the opportunity, and then so you, you grabbed it and, and, and made your own luck by being the right place right time, but seizing that moment. So I’m gonna ask a slightly different question. When has been the best time of your careers

Andrea Cossarizza (00:36:21):

Peter O’Toole (00:36:23):
I like the answer and a very quick, Sara, what’s been your best time to date in your

Sara De Biasi (00:36:33):
Well I think that every day I’m happy was my best time in my career. I mean, every time I, I got a success and every time also, I got a not success because I think that you, you learn you learn more doing Crappy thing in the lab than doing than gaining your success. I mean, so as when I, when I am happy and when I’m fine and when I am, I mean, okay, with myself and my work and my everything every day is a success. So I don’t, I don’t remember a really good success. I mean, I like when I won the best poster session in CYTO in two different years, I remember when I graduated, I remember everything, but this is kind of ordinary when you are enjoying your life and your work. So I think that every day is a good day. And I remember, I mean, I can remember yesterday, I can remember today and the day before, yesterday as good day. So it is a success, in my opinion,

Peter O’Toole (00:37:36):
I, I don’t think I’ve met a group that is so happy. And I’m positive about that.

Sara De Biasi (00:37:42):
You have to come to Modena really,

Andrea Cossarizza (00:37:45):
I pay her well, so

Peter O’Toole (00:37:47):
, but it’s not about, I love Sara if you are listening to this, not watching Sara shaking her finger. No, no, no,

Sara De Biasi (00:37:55):
No, really. I really like I mean every day could be a success because at the end of the day, if you sum up, when you are before going home, what you have done not a day is lost. So every day counts for your career every day counts for your job every day counts for your objective in their life. So,

Peter O’Toole (00:38:19):
No, I, I think Andrea’s answer of tomorrow is, is sums it up.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:38:22):
No I actually, yes, it is. But the best I can say what I have, which is the best thing that I have done maybe in the last year, it was not to do flow cytometry was not to do science. It was to help in organizing the vaccination campaign in the country, in all the country. And this is what I have done, and this is what I put on my heart, like medal. I mean, cause apart from the organization on the lab, apart from what we have done here in Moderna for research for science alone, I was lucky again, to be involved in the national campaign at the highest level, highest level. And I spent a lot of time, a lot of it on away force. And actually this was also some something that was interfering a lot with my activity in the ISAC, in ISAC, because I had really very little time to do everything in the, in the last years because of this reason. So, and actually I’m very proud that Italy, we have a very, very high percentage of people who receive the vaccine. And by the way also Modena is the probably one of the highest cities. I mean, with a percentage of people, people, and we have been me and other people I’ve been very involved in talking, just talking with everybody, doing in meetings speak with TV and with the journals, newspaper magazine and so on. So it was, this is the best thing that we have done that I have done to organize, to help in organizing the campaign everywhere. And this was something much more important that what we have done in, in, in the terms of paper or, and whatever,

Peter O’Toole (00:40:19):
Which is an amazing achievement, but it also must have been a very different way of working and different challenges coming to you. And how did you find that change? You must have been talking and communicating with people that are not, not necessarily scientists and having to communicate the importance.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:40:37):
That’s a good question. This was very difficult because I mean the, my trick was simple. Don’t talk about things that you don’t know. That’s all just talk about, speak about immunology, explain immunology vaccine. Don’t mess up with predictions or with what I think of the future. No, because I am, this is the, this is the first pandemic that we have actually in the last 100 years or so. And nobody has the receipt to go out to, to solve the problems or to do so we have to work, I don’t say day by day, but to be in a mundane experiment in which everybody has to do something, but there are no written rules to do things. So you have to speak and to explain people what is going on. You have to explain people that we are using the vaccine, that you can have problems because there are side efforts, like all drugs, you have to explain people that you need to do the booster or the third dose or the four because of this this and that reason. And your credibility is high. When you do not say stupid things or you do not enter into discussions in, I never, I never mean to a talk show, never, but shows are disgusting because ju I mean, journalists or whatever they want to have audience. They want to put people one against the other. And so if I say that this is I don’t know, one kilometer or one mile. And if you say that it is 1.6 kilometers, okay, this a way to discuss, even if we are saying the same things, because may want to put one against the other for the audience. So after the fir the first month on panic, total panic, then one of the big problems that we had in the, with the press with the media was the communication and how media were speaking with people. And then when vaccine vaccines arrived, it was clear that it would have been a mess because the number of different vaccines, a number of different companies and so on. So the, the point is that when we started to, to work in this field, I mean to communicate, you know, I’m an immunologist, I’m a working with HIV with other viruses. So I was the right person to ask things, me and others, not only me, of course, but the problem that we we had was to communicate correctly to people and to convince people, to do things that have to be done. This was my, my main achievement.

Peter O’Toole (00:43:40):
I think there’s a lot of responsibility with that. And the responsibility’s probably great. And you realized at the time, because if something had gone wrong, the credibility of science, would’ve also taken a, a, a bashing and, you know, the public’s faith. And, you know, our government puts a lot of funding into scientific research. It’s what funds you, what funds me. And it’s that faith that we will do the right thing with that science, and be honest with that science that is first and foremost, and if something had gone wrong and you are rightly saying, if you’ve spoken out, turn selling council predicted, and it proved not right, the, the faith in the top scientists would’ve been lost, I fear, but it never happened. And I, I, I think that’s amazing actually, because I, I, I don’t know, but I I’m guessing you didn’t have a lot of press training of how to communicate. It’s just something you naturally do as a scientist.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:44:41):
Actually I have a good teacher. I have a good teacher and my teacher is Paul Robinson. I mean, Paul Robinson because seems more, I, I, I knew him for ages, but what I learned from him is that you have to communicate things in a very simple way, in a way that people understand. And if people do not understand it is you who are wrong, not them. So, and there is a wonderful lecture that Paul gives gave for many years and maybe even now, and it is how to present your data. And it is something incredible intelligent because in this presentation, it’s a very simple stuff. And you have Paul, I mean, shows you what you have to, how you were to prepare these slides. How is a slide prepare and how is a presentation prepared, avoid this, avoid that, do this do that. If you understand the logics, which is behind a simple PowerPoint presentation, the logics is very strict. It’s very strong. I mean, be clear, speak clearly. Don’t say things you don’t know. This is what is the message. And if you apply this to your life, I mean to the, to speaking in public, to, to present data or to discuss a grant, be open and tell the truth. That’s all, it’s very simple.

Peter O’Toole (00:46:13):
I’m gonna come to some quick, some quick fire questions, cuz I, I just see how you go with them. Are you an, who am I gonna start? I’ll go one by one. So Sara first, early bird or night owl.

Sara De Biasi (00:46:27):

Peter O’Toole (00:46:28):
Early bird or night owl?

Sara De Biasi (00:46:30):
Early bird,

Peter O’Toole (00:46:31):
Early bird. Andrea.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:46:33):
Night owl night, night, night. All my life.

Peter O’Toole (00:46:37):
That’s okay. Andrea PC or Mac

Andrea Cossarizza (00:46:41):

Peter O’Toole (00:46:42):

Sara De Biasi (00:46:43):

Peter O’Toole (00:46:44):
Two Mac, Sara. Mcdonald’s or burger king.

Sara De Biasi (00:46:48):

Peter O’Toole (00:46:49):
Oh, Andrea.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:46:50):
Fancy restaurants

Peter O’Toole (00:46:53):
Which comes to, if you were to be taken out at a conference or as a keynote speaker, what would be the best food that they could put in front of you? I’ll go Sara first, please. Don’t say big Mac,

Sara De Biasi (00:47:07):
No lasagna. Hey, but it is impossible because my mother should have cooked it. So every around the world is not possible, but lasagna is my favorite food. Yes.

Peter O’Toole (00:47:21):
and Andrea,

Andrea Cossarizza (00:47:22):
Well, difficult to answer because, you know, in Italy we had forms of excellent rice around, including at top restaurant in the world, which is here in Moderna. But something that I eat all the time, it could be August 15th or Christmas are tortellini, tortellini, which is a typical this year. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:47:45):
Okay. What the, the opposite to that you sit down and what is the worst thing that they could put in front of you? You just go, oh, I wish they knew. I didn’t like that. I’ll start with Andrea on that one.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:48:00):
It depends where you are. I mean, since it happens to, for me to me and to Sara it to all of us, to be quests of someone you cannot say, I don’t like, I don’t want it’s impossible, but I can tell you, which is my most difficult thing that I had. It was the head of a goat. What house we in, in Norway many, many years ago, it was a typical dish for Christmas. And I had this poor animal like that on my, on my, on the table. And the eye was looking at me and I say, oh, well, fortunately there was some snaps in front of me. And so I drink three or four glasses of alcohol and I was okay. But another thing is when I went to Asia, Asia in China or in Thailand or Japan or so on. And when I eat something, I don’t know what that, I don’t know, but oh, it’s okay. I would like to know what I am eating, even if, sometime it simply possible

Peter O’Toole (00:49:02):

Andrea Cossarizza (00:49:03):
When you go there, the same for them. I mean the same for Asian people who come here to Italy. Of course they eat things that they know. So it’s cultural, but I never had problem with food.

Peter O’Toole (00:49:14):
Yes but Italian food is the best food in the world. Sara. What about you?

Sara De Biasi (00:49:19):
Thanks to a friend of mine. I learned how to taste everything. So I really, I can say that I don’t like duck for example, but thanks to a friend of mine who I met in Flow cytometry environment, by the way I learn how to taste everything and because it’s a cultural experience, but I don’t like duck.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:49:42):
We had duck in, in Shanghai maybe.

Sara De Biasi (00:49:44):
Yes. I taste that. I don’t Like it.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:49:46):
Very good food there.

Peter O’Toole (00:49:50):
Okay. Sara tea or coffee,

Sara De Biasi (00:49:55):
Both, but I prefer coffee.

Peter O’Toole (00:49:58):
Okay. Andrea,

Andrea Cossarizza (00:50:00):
I saw coffee. Short

Sara De Biasi (00:50:04):

Andrea Cossarizza (00:50:05):
Could be

Peter O’Toole (00:50:05):

Andrea Cossarizza (00:50:07):
I’m here.

Peter O’Toole (00:50:08):

Andrea Cossarizza (00:50:09):

Peter O’Toole (00:50:11):
Andrea, Wine or beer?

Andrea Cossarizza (00:50:14):
Wine all my life

Peter O’Toole (00:50:15):
Red or White?

Andrea Cossarizza (00:50:18):
It depends. You cannot say the only thing is that it has to be wine. I mean, strong wine, not, not be, not below 13 degrees of alcohol and below 13. It is not really wine.

Peter O’Toole (00:50:35):
And then after my own heart, usually it’s 14 plus percent, but I’m Adel person or, or, well,

Andrea Cossarizza (00:50:42):
No, I mean, the problem is like wine has to be too mature. So if, if, if wine materials, the, the degree of alcohol goes up, so this is very simple. You can have light wines known why not, but if it’s not like bottle or, or, or sheraz or whatever. So these are my favorite one, maybe red. More than white.

Peter O’Toole (00:51:07):
When you come to York, I’ll have just the right bottle. Sara, what about you? Wine or beer?

Sara De Biasi (00:51:13):

Peter O’Toole (00:51:14):
Red or white.

Sara De Biasi (00:51:16):
It’s white.

Peter O’Toole (00:51:18):
It’s white. Okay. And so with that, so chocolate or cheese. Sara

Sara De Biasi (00:51:23):
Mm, chocolate

Peter O’Toole (00:51:27):
Milk or dark

Sara De Biasi (00:51:29):

Peter O’Toole (00:51:31):
Oh, tacky stuff. it has its place. Andrea, what about you? Ch chocolate or cheese

Andrea Cossarizza (00:51:37):
Again? It’s difficult to say. It depends what you are. You have front of you in principle cheese, parmesan with balsamic vinegar on the top, which is something we, we also, we, we produce in my house. We have balsamic vinegar downstairs. We have say balance and dark chocolate.

Peter O’Toole (00:51:59):
That’s amazing. Yeah, definitely dark chocolate. That I’m gonna come. Sara I see, I know what the’s gonna be from Andrea from earlier book or TV.

Sara De Biasi (00:52:10):
I don’t have time for neither of them actually, because I became a mother last year and a half. So my time is fully occupied by work and being a mum. But usually I prefer book than TV. If I, if I’m watching television is because there is some kind of good films on demand or a serious television, but not ordinary TV. I mean, I don’t like it.

Peter O’Toole (00:52:36):
Your TV habits will change as they get older.

Sara De Biasi (00:52:39):

Peter O’Toole (00:52:41):
But you can zone out and just enjoy being with them at that moment. How have you balanced work with having a child?

Sara De Biasi (00:52:49):
Ah, I can balance it. I, the problem is that when not the issue is that when you are at work, you are 100% at work. And when you are at home, you are 100% at home with your daughter when she is awake. And when she’s going to bed that you can go to work again. Okay. Or you can go to bed. It depends. Sometimes it’s better to go to bed, but sometimes I need to work again. So you have to be 100% where you are physically, otherwise you are not successful in in anything. If you are at work. And you’re thinking about your private life you are just go got anxious or something different. And vice versa. If you are with your daughter and you are thinking about your job or about your problem job, you are not enjoying your real life. So I think that once you are in the place, you have to be physically and mentally in the same place.

Peter O’Toole (00:53:46):
Okay. And Andrea I I’m gonna start with a book or TV.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:53:49):
No, wait. Okay. I read a lot of papers scientific stuff. But I always watch TV in, in the sport channel in NBA channel. So I very fan of basketball. I was playing basketball when I was young. And so I love this sometimes also. I mean, the second sport is rugby. Rugby is the All Black are my heroes actually. And I don’t like football too much. I mean, being a Italian, you see it watch a TV when they play football. But I don’t, don’t not like much. I hate such soccer players. I mean, they are false. I love rugby. When rugby, if you are, if you are not dead, you play, this is what I like. And also timings. So a love of sports. I hate talk shows. I hate programs where nothing happens. I hate programs where you make pose. You stupid question, you answer in, in a more stupid way and you get money. So this is something I putting yourself, stuff like that.

Peter O’Toole (00:55:00):
There’s no money with these questions. Don’t worry.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:55:03):
That’s a pity, we were agreeing on this.

Peter O’Toole (00:55:13):
What about your favorite films?

Sara De Biasi (00:55:16):

Peter O’Toole (00:55:17):
Yeah. Go Sara

Sara De Biasi (00:55:19):
Top gun

Andrea Cossarizza (00:55:20):
No Come on. Bye.

Sara De Biasi (00:55:22):
Yeah. Yeah. I like top gun. Yes. I like top gun. Yes. It was one of my favorites when I was very young and still is my, one of my favorites. Then there are a lot of other films that I like, but I mean, I don’t remember the one I remember is top gun and there are kind of scenes that I really love about Maverick. And I mean,

Peter O’Toole (00:55:42):
On top gun two,

Sara De Biasi (00:55:44):
Not one. I, I haven’t seen this. The second one.

Peter O’Toole (00:55:47):
You haven’t seen the second one. No. Recommend it.

Sara De Biasi (00:55:48):
Never see the second one. You like the First?

Peter O’Toole (00:55:51):
No, I recommend it.

Sara De Biasi (00:55:53):

Peter O’Toole (00:55:55):
I, I, I took we took our son to watch it and actually it was surprisingly good.

Sara De Biasi (00:56:01):
Oh, okay. Good. Yeah.

Peter O’Toole (00:56:02):
So a couple of hours to zone out and actually it’s been so long since I’ve been to the cinema that they’ve done it all out. The seats were really comfy and I’ve got to say I didn’t fall asleep and that’s really good. That’s a good credit to it. Cuz usually when there’s a film I zone out and that’s the only time I stop thinking.

Sara De Biasi (00:56:20):

Peter O’Toole (00:56:20):
And I usually then shut off and just, no, I love Andrea’s respect the comment when he said top gun like no, no, no. You might not have a job tomorrow after admitting that

Andrea Cossarizza (00:56:32):
I mean it’s okay. Well

Peter O’Toole (00:56:38):
What’s your favorite film?

Andrea Cossarizza (00:56:40):
My, if I have to mention one film only Frank Stein Jr. By Mel Brooks.

Peter O’Toole (00:56:48):
So you had a go at Sara for watching top gun. Yes. And you go for Frankenstein Jr.

Andrea Cossarizza (00:56:54):
Yes I can. I, I know by heart, all the, all the, all the single moments, it was fantastic. All the movies by Quinten Tarantino. I love Tarantino, I mean, it’s impact. Fiction is pure genius.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:13):
Pulp fiction is and kill bill, both films, the soundtracks make them don’t they?

Andrea Cossarizza (00:57:18):
Yeah, sure.

Peter O’Toole (00:57:19):
The soundtracks are so much part of those movies that,

Andrea Cossarizza (00:57:23):
Because I mean really something unbelievable. When I saw Pulp Fiction for the first time I was laughing for, if some scenes were a little bit tough,

Peter O’Toole (00:57:40):
I’ve watched it with one of my sons too, resolved enough. Now watched it loved the film, but yeah, some of them are a bit awkward. In moment, Jo, we, we are nearly up to time and I can’t believe that that is actually nearly an hour. And I’ve got so many questions I wanted to ask you. I was, ah, I haven’t got time to ask them all. Now this isn’t unfair. I’m completely flummox. Cause I don’t usually have a lack of question. I’ve got about five different things I wanted to ask such is what is the most challenging time you’ve had in your career? So let’s go there. What’s been really quickly. What has been the most challenging time of your career date? I’ll start with Sara.

Sara De Biasi (00:58:24):
One paper abut. We, we really, really had blood. We really rode with the blood. So it was very challenging. That’s what that’s one. The first I remember that it was very, I mean in the last, in the last year. So it’s, it’s the first thing I remember when you are asking something like that.

Peter O’Toole (00:58:42):
Yeah, no, that’s a good answer, especially cuz every day’s good to be quite a challenging question to ask. What about you, Andrea?

Andrea Cossarizza (00:58:50):
Probably when I came to work once, Monday morning and I realized that something forgot the laser on the whole weekend in the start that had the, the final broken. That was a, a very bad moment in my life I don’t who it was I am sure he will Laugh a lot.

Peter O’Toole (00:59:21):
Love it. So on that note, I think we are up to the hour, mark, Sara, Andrea, do you know, it’s been a privilege to talk to you today. It’s a privilege to call you friends. And I think we’re so lucky to have got your time today. Cause I, I, with the vaccination program, with the research that you’re going on and just how difficult it’s been and the fact that you, you both make, it sounds so much fun. I, I don’t think I’ve en I really mean this. I don’t think I’ve encountered a lab that just thinks it’s lucky and happy in every day is the best. And the next day is the best day still to come and that’s not because the other days are bad. They’re all good. It’s just always getting better. I think that’s tremendous credit actually to, to yourself, Andrea, for developing a team spirit in that sense and like S who embrace it and really move forward with it. And yet if you want, I was gonna ask about inspirations. You all many ready, mentioned Paul Robinson. He was one of the very early guests of flow stars. Cuz he is an inspiration to any flow cytometry, any scientist I would say out there, but your impacts are tremendous and be proud of yourselves. Thanks for joining us today. If you’ve enjoyed listening, please go and look at the recordings of flow stars. But Sara and Andrea, thank you.

Andrea Cossarizza (01:00:45):
We are not stars. We are not stars. We are just people doing their job. I mean, I don’t like the idea to be considered a star even if we are, but , I mean you have to be ironic. Be ironic. If I can compare something to people, be ironic, have fun, play hard, work hard, play hard. And if you can make jokes with your collaborators or with your boss, this is important. Maybe if you survive it’s okay, but this is, this is message.

Peter O’Toole (01:01:15):
This has been a delight. It’s been so much fun. Thank you both.

Andrea Cossarizza (01:01:21):

Sara De Biasi (01:01:21):


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