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Italian Scientists’ Success Tainted by Nepotism

Antonio Iavarone and Anna Lasorella are two Italian scientists who have recently revealed the results of their research into the causes of brain tumours in children.  The ground-breaking work of this husband and wife team may well lead to new therapies which could help save young lives.

Any parent whose little one has had problems which have led to the hospitalisation, and that includes me, will know just how traumatic the event can be.  The thought of losing my child scares me, and I know of people who have lost children.  It is something I don’t think they have ever really got over, and probably never will.

Antonio Iavarone and Anna Lasorella’s work may, one sincerely hopes, help a few parents avoid the trauma of losing a child.

Alas, the road to scientific success for this Italian couple has been nothing if not rocky.

While it’s wonderful to write about successes which will provide hope to parents, both present and future, it is sad to note that the two Italians concerned were unable to undertake their cutting edge research in Italy.  No.  They had to flee to the United States of America, where they found encouragement and funding for their endeavours from the Albert Einstein and Columbia universities.

The Most Promising Researchers in Italy

Hailed in 2000 as being two of the most promising researchers in Italy, Antonio Iavarone and Anna Lasorella used to work with the Policlinico Gemelli in Rome. With this institution they made good progress into understanding the development brain tumours  in children, but were shocked, when amongst other things, their boss, one professor Renato Mastrangelo, told them to place the name of Mastrangelo’s son on documents passed to scientific journals.   Apparently some 25 publications resulting from Iavarone and Lasorella’s efforts were published in the name of professor Renato Mastrangelo’s son.

After putting up with professor Mastrangelo’s orders for a while, the couple finally had enough, and refused to continue to play the nepotism ball.  They attempted to reveal what had being going on to the world via the press and the radio, but ranks closed, and professor Renato Mastrangelo responded by promptly filing charges against the couple accusing them of defamation.

To counter this claim, scientists Iavarone and Lasorella brought, and won, a case against professor Mastrangelo in one of Italy’s administrative law TAR tribunals, although the final outcome of the case it still not clear, even if all this happened way back in 2000.  The wheels of Italian justice revolve so slowly as to be just about imperceptible.

Iavarone and Lasorella Would Never Get Anywhere

The good professor Mastrangelo also seemed to think that the research being carried out by Iavarone and Lasorella was little more than a waste of time and would never get anywhere.  Perhaps the knowledgeable Mastrangelo attained his senior position at the Policlinico Gemelli as a result of contacts and not competence?  Well, the Iavarone and Lasorella situation does make one wonder, does it not?

Down, but Not Out

Down and disheartened, but not out, the couple fled Italy to the USA where they hoped they would be able to continue their work.

As a result, Italy lost two bright scientists, and Italy lost the international prestige which it would have obtained if Iavarone and Lasorella had been allowed to make their discovery while still in the country.  All because of a silly case of nepotism.

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Talk about shooting oneself in the foot.

Luckily, the climate in the USA allowed Iavarone and Lasorella to continue their research unhindered, and as the recent published results of their work demonstrate, they did get somewhere.

The USA – Land of Freedom – for Italian Researchers

Iavarone and Lasorella have praised the openness and freedom of US culture, although things have not been easy for them.  Aside from their discovery, these two merit-worthy Italian scientists should be congratulated for having faced adversity and successfully overcome it.  And it appears that there is quite a community of expat Italian researchers with similar stories over in the USA.

Parents throughout the world will no doubt be thankful that Iavarone and Lasorella exist, I know I am.  It’s a shame the Living Museum does not view their existence in the same light.  I do hope that one fine day these two come back to Italy.

Writing this made me be both happy and sad.  Italy could be such a great country.  It has no shortage of brain power.  And when will Italy realise that nepotism can cost lives?

Further reading:

Columbia University Medical Centre press release announcing the results of Italians Antonio Iavarone and Anna Lasorella’s work:

Gene Vital to Brain’s Stem Cells Implicated in Deadly Brain Cancer – in English.


La Repubblica 5 October, 2000 – Da noi la bravura non paga ce ne siamo dovuti andare – In Italy being good does not count, so we had to leave – in Italian

La Repubblica 17 August, 2009 – ‘Fuggiti’ dall’Italia per nepotismo – scoprono gene per lo sviluppo ‘ ‘Escaped’ from nepotism in Italy – they discover a gene (which leads to the development of brain cancer) – in Italian

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