Antonio Giordano, president of the Sbarro Health Research Organisation (SHRO) in Philadelphia, in the US, was in Malta last week on a lightning visit to the Institute of Cellular Pharmacology (ICP), based at the Mosta Technopark.
Prof. Giordano was invited to Malta by Manuele Biazzo, director of research and development at ICP, who was a former student of his at the University of Siena where, through the SHRO, he invested in a training programme followed by Dr Biazzo 15 years ago.
Apart from touring the ICP’s laboratory, which he said was state-of-the-art, Prof. Giordano also addressed a conference where all 25 researchers at ICP and other members of the team, along with Prof. Giuseppe Di Giovanni from the Department of Pathology at the University of Malta, attended.
Prof. Giordano’s immediate reaction as soon as he arrived and having toured the premises was one of admiration: “Living in the United States, I was very interested in reading about some of the work and the research conducted in a place that is not well known for research. I have seen the laboratory and there is nothing to be ashamed of compared to a laboratory in the United States; it is state-of-the-art – suggests there is a knowledge base.
“I also appreciate the fact that many European minds are also working here and using their talents here. That is another point, because a lot of people go to the United States, like me.”
Prof. Giordano is keen to explore avenues of collaboration between SHRO and ICP, including developing joint research and academic programmes even in conjunction with the University of Malta.
“I want to explore the possibility that some of the know-how that is produced here could be of interest also in SHRO’s research projects and could also be of interest to the clinicians and the physicians in the United States and in Italy,” he affirmed.
Despite having settled in the United States in 1988, he has kept up his links with the country of his birth, Italy, and is currently working with the Italian government to set up a specialised postgraduate university programme in his home city Naples.
“The Italian government is investing over €60 million on a new postgraduate programme similar in structure to the one of the Sorbonne and the Normale di Pisa. I am happy to explore the possibility of offering a double Master’s with Temple University in Philadelphia to Maltese students,” he added.
ICP, he observed, is becoming a leader in natural products.
“More and more, we are realising how important is the link between the human body and a correct lifestyle. Lifestyle is whatever surrounds us in the environment. In the environment and in the natural world there are products that can possibly influence human life and make people feel better,” Prof. Giordano said.
Scientists are now proving the mechanisms of these natural products – how they work when they get into the human cell – that our grandparents told us about healthy living in the Mediterranean. They are also interfering with the engines of the human cells and correcting them, whether it is the central nervous system, the blood and even cancerous tumours.
Prof. Giordano is very close to the concept developed by the founder of ICP, Gilles Gutierrez, who set up ICP to discover how the same molecule obtained from plants could influence the human metabolism.
“It is very interesting that this company is among the first that is generating knowledge of how certain types of natural products are able to reverse some of the negative functions in certain human model systems,” Prof. Giordano said. “This is why I am here because we are very interested in setting up a collaboration but also in trying to use (them) alone or in combination with some of the known, classical pharmaceutical drugs.”
Among the ingredients are those found in citrus fruits, which contribute to a good quality of life even into old age. Thirty years ago, the mention of natural products was like talking of witchcraft. Now these products abound on the shelves of our pharmacies and supermarkets.
Dr Biazzo thanked Prof. Giordano for accepting his invitation to visit ICP in Malta. “We had a thoroughly productive conference with Prof. Giordano, and I look forward to further visits to further strengthen collaboration between ICP and SHRO,” he said.
ICP, which has been operating in Malta for more than 20 years, was granted exclusive harvesting rights by the government of Malta of the brown algae Padina pavonica from which it produces the molecular extract Maltanedienol.