Meet Maria-Christina Zennaro, a professor in the Paris Cardiovascular Research Center at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm). She specialises in genetic mechanisms of aldosterone-related disorders. She has been awarded the SfE European Medal and will be delivering her Medal Lecture at SfE BES 2018, 19-21 November in Glasgow. In our latest interview, she tells us more about her work and what she is looking forward to at the SfE BES 2018 conference.
Can you tell us a little about your current position and research?
I am a research professor heading the team exploring the genetic mechanisms of aldosterone-related disorders at the Paris Cardiovascular Research Centre at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm). My team is interested in unravelling the genetic and genomic mechanisms of aldosterone-related disorders, particularly primary aldosteronism, by combining clinical work with genome-wide strategies and mechanistic studies in cell and animal models. I am also an associated investigator at the Genetics Department of the European Hospital Georges Pompidou (HEGP) in Paris, where I coordinate the genetic diagnosis of pseudohypoaldosteronism type 1 and primary aldosteronism at the genetics laboratory, which is the French referral centre for the genetic diagnosis of these diseases.
What inspired you into endocrinology?
I received my MD and board certification in endocrinology at the University of Padova (Italy) and completed a PhD in molecular endocrinology at the University Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris. I had the chance to have great mentors, in particular Decio Armanini, who shared his passion for research with me, and John W Funder, who has supported my career ever since. In Paris, I had the chance to work with major players in the field of arterial hypertension and aldosterone, setting the basis for my future research.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
After obtaining a tenured position as an Inserm researcher twenty years ago, I developed my own research group, which is now benefitting from the outstanding environment of the Paris Cardiovascular Research Centre and HEGP. I am particularly proud of having been able to create our research group, with the successive recruitment of two great researchers, with whom I have taken pleasure in sharing my working career with for many years.
What are you presenting in your Medal Lecture at SfE BES 2018?
I will present an update on the genetic and molecular mechanisms involved in the development of primary aldosteronism. In particular, I will summarise our current knowledge on the genetics of primary aldosteronism, notably our recent paper identifying a new gene in early onset primary aldosteronism, and discuss the pathogenic mechanisms leading to increased aldosterone production and cell proliferation. I will also discuss perspectives for clinical management of patients and open questions to be addressed by future research.
What are you looking forward to at this year’s conference?
There are many great sessions on the adrenal gland, featuring world-leading experts in the field, which I highly recommend. There are exciting plenary lectures and I am looking forward to hearing about the influence of the microbiome in endocrine disease on Tuesday afternoon.
What do you think are the biggest challenges in endocrinology right now?
I think the challenges are threefold. First, the scientific challenge of improving our understanding of common and rare endocrinological disorders. Second, to be able to efficiently transfer this knowledge to patient care, in particular the knowledge generated from large-scale ‘omics’ studies. Improving diagnosis, management and implementation of precision medicine in clinical practice is really important, and should be affordable and available for everyone anywhere. Lastly, but not least, a major challenge is gathering funding for research in endocrinology.
What do you think will be the next major breakthrough in your field?
I hope it will be the development of new diagnostic procedures for endocrine hypertension, which will have a major impact on treatment of those patients and prevention of cardiovascular and metabolic complications, improving their quality of life.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Most certainly it is the scientific exchanges with my colleagues all over the world and mentoring young people to transmit my knowledge with passion to future generations.
Who do you most admire professionally?
I have had the chance to meet many extraordinary colleagues, many of whom I admire for different reasons. I particularly admire a few of my senior colleagues and mentors: I consider it a great opportunity to meet them every year at different meetings around the world, to have discussions with them and benefit from their profound scientific knowledge and incredible experience, especially when they talk about experiments they did 30 years ago!
Any words of wisdom for aspiring researchers out there?
Endocrinology requires a deep understanding of the complexity of endocrine feedbacks and interactions throughout the body. Research in the field of endocrinology is exciting, as it addresses the many questions we have on the mechanisms regulating endocrine physiology and hormone action. In this sense, it is also very diverse, ranging from genetics to cellular and molecular mechanisms, not only in hormone-producing organs but also in the multitude of target organs.
You can hear Professor Zennaro’s European Medal Lecture, “Molecular mechanisms in primary aldosteronism” on Wednesday 21 November, in the Lomond Auditorium at 15:30-16:00. Find out more about the scientific programme for SfE BES 2018.