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The NGF System and its interplay with endocannabinoid signalling, from peripheral sensory terminals to the brain: new targets for the development of next generation drugs for neuropathic pain


SNS – Scuola Normale Superiore – Coordinator
Laboratorio di Biologia
Piazza dei Cavalieri 7
56126 PISA


  • Institute Presentation

    The coordinating Institution Scuola Normale Superiore (SNS) is one the most prestigious University in Italy, that recruits a very small number of students, through a very competitive admission exam. SNS was founded by Napoleon, over 200 years ago, on the model of the Ecole Normale Superieure in France, and has, since, kept the highest teaching and academic standards. This is witnessed by the Shanghai Academic Ranking of the World Universities (ARWU) (http://www.shanghairanking.com/ARWU2012.html). Due to the small number of students and of faculties, the relevant ranking to be considered is the ranking normalized per number of students (PCP (Per Capita academic Performance)). According to the PCP ranking, in 2012 SNS ranks at the 5th position worldwide (see enclosed Table of the 2012 PCP ARWU ranking). SNS undergraduates and graduates routinely find doctoral, postdoctoral and research positions in the best universities and research centres worldwide.

    SNS has a very strong track record of being awarded competitive international grants, including European grants (in particular ERC). Within the SNS Research administration structure, the EU Research Projects Office is devoted to manage project proposals for European funding programs, supporting researchers from the proposal preparationto the administrative and financial management of financed projects. As a matter of fact, within FP7 SNS takes part in 19 European research projects financed by the European Commission, managing approximately 9 million Euros for their development. Of these, 7 ERC have been granted to SNS.

    The choice, and the added value, of SNS as the coordinator has been a natural consequence of two facts:

    1) The Coordinator was the scientific trigger for putting together the initial idea of the proposal, also due to his previous experience in developing innovative NGF-based biotech products in the field of chronic pain, based on the research activity of his laboratory, and to his scientific and industrial network.

    2) SNS is a primary teaching and research institution, with a longstanding and well documented experience in managing European grants (19 EU grants currently being managed at SNS, notwithstanding its small size).

  • Project Leader

    a.cattaneoAntonino Cattaneo,

    PhD. Full Professor of Neurobiology
    Director BioSNS Laboratory


    After working as a postdoc and staff scientist with Rita Levi-Montalcini (Nobel Prize winner for discovery of NGF) at the CNR Institute of Neurobiology in Rome, and with Cesar Milstein (Nobel Prize winner for discovery of monoclonal antibodies) at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (Cambridge, UK) he became Full Professor of Biophysics at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste (Italy) (1991-2008). As Head of the Biophysics Sector of SISSA, he was involved in setting up from scratch the SISSA Neuroscience Program. The Coordinator Antonino Cattaneo has been strongly contributed to the development of therapeutic Antibodies, such as a humanized antiNGF and antiTrkA Abs that have been licensed to Abbott Pharmaceuticals and Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, respectively, currently in clinical development.

    He also developed “painless NGF” (NGFR100) as a therapeutic candidate for Alzheimer’s disease and DNP. Prof. Cattaneo was Deputy Director of SISSA from 1997 to 2001. From 2008 to present he is Professor of Neurobiology at SNS, where he is the Director of BioSNS. From 2001 to 2006, prof. Cattaneo has been co-founder, Chairman of the Board and Head of Research of Lay Line Genomic SpA, a spin-out biotech company of SISSA, to develop the industrial applications of patented technologies developed in the fields of recombinant antibody technologies (including two humanized antibodies against CP) and neurodegenerative disease drug development. From January 2004 he has been co-director of the European Brain Research Institute (EBRI) in Rome (Italy). He is a member of EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organization) and a former member of the Council of Scientists of Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO). Antonino Cattaneo has had many experiences of coordinating international research projects, funded by the HFSPO and by the EU [including the Project Symbionic (SSA) and MEMORIES].

    Prof. Cattaneo has a strong research experience in biophysics, molecular neurobiology and biotechnology. He has made major scientific contributions to different fields of neurobiology and immunotechnology. In particular, he has pioneered the use of genetically encoded recombinant antibodies as tools for phenotypic knock-out in different systems. This set of technologies is now central for functional genomics and global proteomics. He has more than 30 years research experience and is the author of more than 160 scientific publications in peer-reviewed international journals (more than 4938 citations and H index = 31) and several patents/patent applications.

  • Project Staff

    SimonaCapsoni_SNSSimona Capsoni,

    DVM PhD, Junior Professor of Neurobiology at the BioSNS.


    Simona Capsoni has several years of expertise in using animal models and in vivo pharmacological treatments based on NGF signaling. Her present work concerns the preclinical development of the painless NGF molecule for therapeutical application and the development of HSAN mouse models. She is author of 55 peer-reviewed articles with an H-index of 19.


    DLamba_Paincage_16Doriano Lamba,

    PhD, Deputy Head of the Crystallography Institute, CNR, Trieste and adjunct professor in “Introduction to Structural Biology” at the SNS.

    Doriano Lamba is a long-standing collaborator of Antonino Cattaneo and author of more than 100 peer reviewed publications (H-Index 24). Main research interests: Structural studies of acetylcholinesterase-inhibitors complexes: structure-based design of new anti Alzheimer drugs; Structural and functional studies of neutralizing antibodies (TrkA-receptor and Nerve Growth Factor): implications for the design of novel therapeutics in neuropathic chronic pain and inflammation; Structure-based monoclonal antibodies humanization; Structural and functional studies of pro-neurotrophins/neurotrophins

    Francesca Paoletti,

    PhD, Post-Doctoral Fellow


    Francesca graduated in Chemistry and received her PhD in Structural and Functional Genomics at SISSA in 2006, under the supervision of Prof. Antonino Cattaneo and Dr. Doriano Lamba.

    She is currently post-doctoral fellow in the frame of the Paincage project.

    Her main interests are in the biochemistry/biophysics and structural biology of neurotrophins and pro-neurotrophins, and the investigation of the molecular determinants of the switch between the different biological roles of neurotrophins and their precursors, with special attention of disease conditions.

    Marta Pietrasanta,Foto del 17-02-15 alle 11.03 #3

    PhD, Post-Doctoral Fellow


    Marta recently joined the laboratory of Biology of professor Cattaneo at the SNS for her post-doc, and she is currently working on the PAINCAGE project.
    She graduated in Biology in 2008 and then she made a PhD in Neurobiology under the supervision of dr. Matteo Caleo.
    During her PhD she studied cortical hyperexcitability and callosal communication with in vivo electrophysiological, biochemical and anatomical techniques.
    Her role in the PAINCAGE project is centered around the development of in vivo models to test the efficacy of new molecules in the relief of chronic and neuropathic pain.


    valeriaValeria Giusti,

    Administrative, organisational and financial management

    valeria.giusti@sns.it / paincage@sns.it