PhD: Francesca Loria


Each month we are going to be highlighting one of the PhD’s of the project so their work can be showcased. We continue with Francesca Loria, Research Scientist and PhD Candidate at HBM-LS. We are asking the PhD’s five questions and here is how Francesca answered.

Good morning Francesca, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Ciao a tutti! This is Francesca, an Italian girl living in Tallinn, Estonia (how come?), definitively an ambivalent country, which can be brutal in Wintertime with the wrong mindset, but where digital connection is ranked number 1 in the world, and everything seems to flow smoothly and easily. You can definitively wonder how and why a girl from the deep south of Italy, the wonderful Sicily, could have the crazy idea to move to a land where sauna and cold plunges are a must to survive. Well, only EVs could have such kind of power over me. Here, I work at HansaBioMed Life Sciences Ltd (HBM-LS), a biotech company with 15 years of worldwide recognized experience in the EV field. My company provides a wide portfolio of products and services for EV research and development, along with actively participating in numerous international research projects to upgrade current methodologies for studying EVs and investigate new fields of application. My deep interest in EVs started long time ago, in 2013, during my Bachelor of Science’s studies in Biotechnology at the University of Palermo (Italy). At that time, I decided to focus my undergraduate research training on characterizing the miRNA profile of small EVs (exosomes) released by the chronic myeloid leukemia cell line LAMA84 under hypoxic conditions. After several months spent in Dublin to improve my English language skills, I applied for a 2-year research-oriented Master of Science’s course in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Groningen (The Netherlands). Following my graduation, I realized that my desire to investigate and work with EVs was calling back and had to be fulfilled. Also driven by my curiosity towards the corporate world and its dynamics, in 2017, I opted for a company trainee position, first, and a role as lab technician, secondly, at Exosomics Siena S.p.A., an Italian biotech company developing and validating new-generation EV-based products for liquid biopsy. Since 2019, I have been given the great opportunity to work at HBM-LS as executive Research Scientist of the European Commission-funded FET projects evFOUNDRY and BOW. This has allowed me to interact with a multidisciplinary team of highly competent and very inspiring professionals, who love to do and talk about science with a great sense of humor, knowing that having fun together at work is the real key to successful outcomes.

To address HBM-LS’s interest in getting to deepen current knowledge about plant-derived EVs or nanovesicles, in 2021, I embarked on an industrial Ph.D. program in Chemistry and Biotechnology at Tallinn University of Technology, in affiliation with the Center of Food and Fermentation Technologies (Tallinn, Estonia). Specifically, my Ph.D. research work aims at developing quality control methodological approaches mostly focusing on plant-derived nanovesicles and their exploitation for healthcare applications. As EVs, fortunately, are not everything, in my free time I really enjoy alternating sport (boxing and swimming) with sauna and cold plunges. I love listening to any type of music, watching movies and TV series (the more tangled they are, the more they are appreciated), along with reading books and learning French. I truly love dogs, but cats melt me.

Could you explain your last paper or discovery?

The complexity of EVs is well known and still affects their proper production, handling and study. In association with this, we continue to lack a clear definition of the critical quality and quantity parameters to assess and monitor in EV preparations. Therefore, our work is attempting to propose novel methods and tools to help address these challenges, as well as support any EV researcher in navigating more responsibly throughout the EV research and product development journey.

Which is the advancement for science and technology that you are currently studying?

I believe that EVs are the one of the most current and extensively researched topics. From the content preserved within EVs, it is possible to glean crucial information in various fields of research, particularly in a tumor environment where cell-to-cell communication is pivotal. In summary, research on EVs tumor-derived promises to enhance cancer diagnosis, treatment, and management, contributing to saving lives and improving the quality of life for patients affected by this disease.

Which would you say are the possible impacts on society?

With our research outputs, we envision offering innovative strategies and tools to address some of the main developmental and control issues that are currently underlying the production of EV-based products for multiple healthcare applications.

Is there someone you want to acknowledge?

First, I would like to deeply thank my mentor, Dr. Nataša Zarovni, who always fuels me with unique, out-of-the-box and very inspirational insights, which have been truly contributing to becoming what I am now. I would like to thank the entire HBM-LS’s corporate team for having offered me the chance to grow, both professionally and humanly, in a way I could not hope for in other contexts, along with giving me an essential and constant support in our routine work activities. I would like to acknowledge all BOW and evFOUNDRY project Partners, especially their coordinator, Prof. Paolo Bergese, for granting me these important, turning-point career and life opportunities. I would like to extend my acknowledgements to my current academic supervisor, Prof. Raivo Vilu, for supporting my new line of research and the progression of my Ph.D. program. Last but not least, I would like to thank my beloved ones for always believing in me and encouraging me to follow myself without any hesitation.