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Vito Genna

Post Doc Fellow
Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Research Line

Molecular Modeling and Drug Discovery


IIT Central Research Lab Genova


Via Morego 30
+39 010 71781 713
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My interest in cancer research began in 2011 when I joined - thanks to the “Erasmus Placement” fellowship - the group of Prof. Francesco Gervasio at the Dept. of Structural and Computational Biology at Cnio Centro Nacional De Investigaciones Oncológicas, Madrid (Spain). In his group I kept in touch, for the first time, with molecular dynamics simulations techniques, which allowed me to perform a structural investigation of HIV (type I and II) reverse transcriptases (RT) for the discovery of new anti-viral drugs to treat viral infections in patients with cancer. Subsequently, in 2013, I joined the group of Prof. Matteo Dal Peraro at the Bioengineering Institute of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), where I had the opportunity to further consolidate my computational background focusing on classical molecular dynamics simulations, well-tempered metadynamics and steered molecular dynamics, to name few of them.

In the group of Prof. Dal Peraro I started a project focused on the two-metal-aided function of Human DNA Polymerase-η, an enzyme that bypasses DNA lesions to guarantee correct genetic inheritance. Interestingly, in that period, Human DNA Polymerase-η (Pol-η) was found aberrantly expressed in melanoma cells and therefore the discovery of a potent Pol-η inhibitor was a challenge of great scientific interest. For this reason, in 2013, I moved in the group of Dr. Marco De Vivo at Dept. of Drug Discovery and Development of the Fondazione Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia where I started my PhD in the field of metalloenzymes such as Pol-η. Thanks to the collaboration between IIT and EPFL part of these results were recently published on Nucleic Acids Research (Genna et al. DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkw128, cover article).

Once having described the overall physical properties of Pol-η, we decided to investigate the reaction mechanism carried out by Pol-η to chemically extend damaged DNA. To accomplish this aim, in 2015 - thanks to the “Marco Polo” fellowship - I moved in the group of Prof. Paolo Carloni, director of the Institute of Advanced Simulation at Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany. The group of Prof. Carloni is one of the most important players in the field of Car-Parrinello quantum-mechanics/molecular-mechanics (CP QM/MM) simulations, an expensive computational approach which allows, differently to classical simulations, the detailed investigation of the breaking/forming chemical bonds involved in reaction mechanisms. To perform CP QM/MM simulations we wrote and won two important grants funded by the John von Neumann Institute for Computing for a total of 1.5 million core-hours. In both case I was the leading author of the grant application. By means of CP QM/MM simulations we were able to dissect key features for the design of a potent and highly selective inhibitor of Human Pol-η (see publication list).

Results of research performed in the last years were also presented, with posters or as speaker, at several national and international conferences (CECAM, EMBO conferences, Gordon Conferences) on the topic. 



Core-Hours Grant. John von Neumann Institute for Computing (NIC) John von Neumann Institute for Computing (NIC) granted 300,000 core-h on JUROPA supercomputer at the Jülich Supercomputing Centre (JSC) for the project "Mechanism and Energetics of the nucleotidyl-transfer Reaction Catalyzed by DNA Polymerases."
Vito Genna, Dr. Emiliano Ippoliti, Dr. Pietro Vidossich, Prof. Dr. Paolo Carloni and Dr. Marco De Vivo. 

Marco Polo Fellowship, 2014. Alma Mater Studiorum - Università di Bologna -

COVER article. Molecular BioSystems Journal, Royal Society of Chemistry. DOI: 10.1039/C4MB00203B

- Prize. Best student in Cellular and Molecular Biology in 2013. Università degli Studi di Cagliari, Italy.


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I numeri di IIT

L’Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) è una fondazione di diritto privato - cfr. determinazione Corte dei Conti 23/2015 “IIT è una fondazione da inquadrare fra gli organismi di diritto pubblico con la scelta di un modello di organizzazione di diritto privato per rispondere all’esigenza di assicurare procedure più snelle nella selezione non solo nell’ambito nazionale dei collaboratori, scienziati e ricercatori ”.

IIT è sotto la vigilanza del Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca e del Ministero dell'Economia e delle Finanze ed è stato istituito con la Legge 326/2003. La Fondazione ha l'obiettivo di promuovere l'eccellenza nella ricerca di base e in quella applicata e di favorire lo sviluppo del sistema economico nazionale. La costruzione dei laboratori iniziata nel 2006 si è conclusa nel 2009.

Lo staff complessivo di IIT conta circa 1440 persone. L’area scientifica è rappresentata da circa l’85% del personale. Il 45% dei ricercatori proviene dall’estero: di questi, il 29% è costituito da stranieri provenienti da oltre 50 Paesi e il 16% da italiani rientrati. Oggi il personale scientifico è composto da circa 60 principal investigators, circa 110 ricercatori e tecnologi di staff, circa 350 post doc, circa 500 studenti di dottorato e borsisti, circa 130 tecnici. Oltre 330 posti su 1400 creati su fondi esterni. Età media 34 anni. 41% donne / 59 % uomini.

Nel 2015 IIT ha ricevuto finanziamenti pubblici per circa 96 milioni di euro (80% del budget), conseguendo fondi esterni per 22 milioni di euro (20% budget) provenienti da 18 progetti europei17 finanziamenti da istituzioni nazionali e internazionali, circa 60 progetti industriali

La produzione di IIT ad oggi vanta circa 6990 pubblicazioni, oltre 130 finanziamenti Europei e 11 ERC, più di 350 domande di brevetto attive, oltre 12 start up costituite e altrettante in fase di lancio. Dal 2009 l’attività scientifica è stata ulteriormente rafforzata con la creazione di dieci centri di ricerca nel territorio nazionale (a Torino, Milano, Trento, Parma, Roma, Pisa, Napoli, Lecce, Ferrara) e internazionale (MIT ed Harvard negli USA) che, unitamente al Laboratorio Centrale di Genova, sviluppano i programmi di ricerca del piano scientifico 2015-2017.

IIT: the numbers

Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) is a public research institute that adopts the organizational model of a private law foundation. IIT is overseen by Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca and Ministero dell'Economia e delle Finanze (the Italian Ministries of Education, Economy and Finance).  The Institute was set up according to Italian law 326/2003 with the objective of promoting excellence in basic and applied research andfostering Italy’s economic development. Construction of the Laboratories started in 2006 and finished in 2009.

IIT has an overall staff of about 1,440 people. The scientific staff covers about 85% of the total. Out of 45% of researchers coming from abroad 29% are foreigners coming from more than 50 countries and 16% are returned Italians. The scientific staff currently consists of approximately 60 Principal Investigators110 researchers and technologists350 post-docs and 500 PhD students and grant holders and 130 technicians. External funding has allowed the creation of more than 330 positions . The average age is 34 and the gender balance proportion  is 41% female against 59% male.

In 2015 IIT received 96 million euros in public funding (accounting for 80% of its budget) and obtained 22 million euros in external funding (accounting for 20% of its budget). External funding comes from 18 European Projects, other 17 national and international competitive projects and approximately 60 industrial projects.

So far IIT accounts for: about 6990 publications, more than 130 European grants and 11 ERC grants, more than 350 patents or patent applications12 up start-ups and as many  which are about to be launched. The Institute’s scientific activity has been further strengthened since 2009 with the establishment of 11 research nodes throughout Italy (Torino, Milano, Trento, Parma, Roma, Pisa, Napoli, Lecce, Ferrara) and abroad (MIT and Harvard University, USA), which, along with the Genoa-based Central Lab, implement the research programs included in the 2015-2017 Strategic Plan.