current research
Caster Semenya, a South African 18-year-old, won the 800-metre track running title at the Berlin World Athletics Championships in 2009. Only three hours later, her gender was being harshly contested. The investigation of the International Association of Athletics Federations
(IAAF) was neither discreet nor respectful of her privacy. The IAAF has not disclosed the results of their tests on Semenya. Caster’s case has implications for the ethics of sports and debates about gender and enhancement, and for the philosophical debate about the nature of categories and the classification of people. But could a scientific or medical test offer uncontroversial answers regarding Semenya’s gender? Together with Paolo Maugeri, I argue that ethics should guide science and medicine in making such decisions, and in creating categories.

Chronic pain is a highly unmet medical need, and also the subject of a large and costly category of legal claims. Yet, the invisibility, unspeakability, and subjectivity of pain have caused it to be a subject of as much philosophical and legal controversy on its significance. Most recently, several new neuroimaging technologies are promising to solve these problems, by rendering pain visible, measurable, and to some degree, verifiable. I am interested in the most recent developments of neuroimaging and on their possible implications for the law. Pain.jpg

The implications of neuroimaging techniques for ethics and the law. In collaboration with Barbara Bottalico, Silvia is currently researching on a 'head' case : in February 2009, for the 1st time in a US court, fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) was brought up in a case in which death penalty was at stake (http://www.nature.com/news/2010/000000/full/464340a.html) . According to the defense, the fMRI was supposed to be a 'mitigating circumstance', by showing that the brain of the accused is that of a psychopath. The strategy did not work out as predicted, as the verdict was death penalty, for a murder committed by Brian Dugan 26 years ago. But is fMRI a scientific valid tool for the assessment of psychopathy? There is no general acceptance by the scientific community about the reliability of the methodology to demonstrate without any doubts the neural correlates of psychopathy. Not only, but the existence of neural correlates does not in itself reveal whether they can be used to decode the mental states of an individual. What are the implications of neuroimaging for the law? And what are the limitations of these techniques? Brain.jpg

past projects
Brain Enhancement and Neuroethics. In a recent commentary in the journal Nature, two Cambridge University researchers reported that about a dozen of their colleagues had admitted to regular use of prescription drugs like Adderall, a stimulant, and Provigil, which promotes wakefulness, to improve their academic performance. But is prescription tweaking to perform on exams, or prepare presentations and grants, really the same as injecting hormones to chase down a home run record, or win the Tour de France? BrainEnhancement.jpg

Personal Genomics has become reality. The Personal Genome Project, started in 2006 by Harvard University, has gone public with the first ten participants in October 2008; the 1000 Genomes Project is under way in Britain, China and the US, and direct to consumer (DTC) genetic testings are available on the web. All of this challenges traditional noctions of privacy and informed consent. How do ethics and law cope with these new realities in the US and in Europe? Click here to download a presentation on this topic. GeneticPrivacyFacebookera.gif

My PhD dissertation subject and my main project: the ethical challenges posed by the new Phase 0 oncological trials, which have no intention to treat and may enroll terminal patients. In the fall of 2009 I spent two months as a visiting researcher at NCI-NIH, to resee up close how Phase clinical studies are performed. You can read here my report paper on the Phase 0 Workshop held at 20th EORT-NCI-AARC symposium on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics (Geneva, 21-24 October 2008). Placebo.jpg

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in April 2008 that it will shelve the Helsinki Declaration and, starting in October 2008, it will adopt a new standard for clinical trials called Good Clinical Practice (GCP). Although GPC deals with subject protection (e.g. Informed consent, privacy), it is silent on the issue of placebo as controls in cases where proven therapies exist.
Is the FDA decision troubling at all from an ethical point of view? And if so, why?

On May 16, 2008 the Swiss Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) unanimously ruled that Oscar Pistorius should be able to compete against Olympic athletes, reversing IAAF decision. The magazine Time has chosen him among the 100 most influential people of 2008, category “Heroes and pioneers”, as he is “on the cusp of a paradigm shift in which disability becomes ability, disadvantage becomes advantage”. In the September issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics I published an editorial titled "Oscar Pistorius, enhancement and post-humans", where I argue in favor of the CAS decision from an ethical point of view, and explore the implications of the case on our concept of disability, of sport, of the evolution of our species. pistorius.jpg

After the publication, in November 2007, of the successful therapeutic cloning somatic cellular nuclear transfer) and establishment of embryonic stem cells in primates, I worked with Lisa Bortolotti at elaborating argument in support of therapeutic cloning in humans, aimed at the production of tailored hES cell lines. Here we also analyse the objections to human reproductive cloning and fail to see them as conclusive. Our paper, titled "Reproductive cloning in humans and therapeutic cloning in primates: is the ethical debate catching up with recent scientific advances?" has been published in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics.

During my first year of PhD , I rotated through three different laboratories of the IFOM-IEO campus and I took many different science and philosophy courses, e.g Philosophy of Science, Epistemology, Ethics, Molecular Genetics, Molecular Biology, Protein Structure, Logic, Rhetoric, History of Biomedicine etc.

On the scientific side of my PhD, I worked in the laboratory directed by Prof Francesco Blasi on developmental biology, and then I joined the group headed by Dr Giuliana Pelicci devoted to the study of cancer stem cells in brain tumors. Currently I am a member of the “Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Genomics of cancer” group of Dr Francesca Ciccarelli , where I am studying the evolution of a family of protein involved in different types of tumors.

Following the controversial HFEA decision on the permissibility of research on cytoplasmic hybrid embryos (i.e. Human embryos created by somatic cellular nuclear transfer using a non human animal egg as recipient), I developed arguments together with Giovanni Boniolo to support and justify the HFEA decision from an ethical point of view. Our paper, titled "Fearing a non-existing Minotaur? The ethical challenges of research on cybrids" has been published on the November issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics. chimera2.jpg

In September 2007 I published on Biotechnology Journal a paper with title “The context of embryonic development and its ethical relevance” , where I argue that research on human embryos and embryonic stem cells should be permitted under some circumstances. I am in general interested in the ethical implications concerning the production and the use of human embryos and in the difficult situation of the Italian researchers working with human embryonic stem cells.

work in progress
Phase 0 clinical trials. Towards the development of an ethical framework.
clinical ethics, in preparation