Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog




Love in the Lab: Valentine’s Day with Drs. Salvagno and Mezzadra

Incredible things can happen in a science lab. Innovative discoveries are launched. Lifesaving vaccines are developed. Hypotheses are tested and held to the highest scientific standards.

However, another unique phenomenon can occur in a science lab, a subjective thing in a place of objective observation: it is a place where love can be born and blossom.

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CRI reached out to CRI Postdoctoral Fellow Camilla Salvagno, PhD (Weill Cornell Medicine) and her husband, former CRI Postdoctoral Fellow Riccardo Mezzadra, PhD (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) to learn about their shared experience with love in the lab. Dr. Salvagno is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Juan Cubillos-Ruiz, PhD, where her research focuses on unleashing an immune response against ovarian cancer. Dr. Mezzadra is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Scott Lowe, PhD, where he focuses on pancreatic cancer research. They were kind enough to offer their wisdom and expertise on how they met each other, how science informs love, and much more:

Can you tell us how you both met?

We met back in 2012, a really long time ago. We studied at the same university in Milan, but we were two years apart and we never met until a year or so after Riccardo started his PhD in Ton Schumacher’s lab, in Amsterdam. At the time, Camilla was finishing up her undergrad and she was thinking about the next steps. One of Camilla’s lab mates happened to be one of Riccardo’s best friends, who put us in touch so that she could hear about his experience of doing a PhD abroad. When we started talking about our goals, there was a great connection and we started dating as soon as Riccardo visited Milan again. We went back and forth between Amsterdam and Milan for a few months, until Camilla found a PhD position in Karin de Visser’s lab, also in Amsterdam, on the same floor of Riccardo’s lab. It was quite a leap of faith, as she moved in with him right away. Things went smoothly, then we coordinated the timing of our graduations and moved to New York together, Camilla in the lab of Juan Cubillos-Ruiz and Riccardo in the lab of Scott Lowe.

What is it like to work in the same field?

It is great. Research as a profession is very peculiar. It requires a lot of commitment and passion. With both of us being scientists, it is very simple to understand each other’s needs and the excitements and difficulties of our job. Also, professionally it is an advantage, as we are able to pick each other’s brain when needed, even more so because we have different key expertise. It also helped when we became parents; on one side research is a challenging job, but on the other it gives us unique flexibility which allows us to take shifts on our son’s sick days and in other situations where it was needed.

What drives you to do cancer research?

We both share the same passion and curiosity on how biology works. Cancer is a disease the exploits and dysregulates physiological processes. On one side, by studying cancer you can make new discoveries about fundamental aspects of human biology; on the other one, we have the hope that our work can have a real impact in figuring out better therapeutic options for cancer patients.

What has science taught you about love, and what has love taught you about science?

We think that both science and love require commitment and patience. Of course, all relationships, the same as projects in the lab, have ups and downs, but if you really believe in what you are doing there are good chances you will be able to persevere and succeed in both.

Do you have any advice for other couples who are scientists, or for anyone who is interested in being partners with a fellow scientist?

One thing that we think is fundamental, especially when you happen to work closely, is to respect each other’s space and expertise. When we were in Amsterdam in the same department, we put much value on keeping work and private life separate. Although everybody knew we were a couple, we always did our best in order for this to not be a factor at work. This did not mean that we could not interact in the lab or discuss science and work together, but we never wanted our relationship to affect the way others interacted with each of us. Finally, and this is advice that we always give to ourselves, is that there is more to life than work. Sometimes it is good to also cultivate passions outside of the lab.

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