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A New Perspective on my PhD

I have completed my PhD studies at the University of Zurich, in the group of Francois Verrey. The topic my research was the epithelial ion transport and more specifically sodium transport in the kidney, actually just the portion going through the Epithelial Sodium Channel (ENaC) at the apical part of the cell within a specific segment of the kidney tubule. The cellular pathways and targets were not associated with any major disease and the entire area of my investigations was as completely removed from clinical applications.

In summary: basic research for the pure sake of understanding a cellular process with no ambition, or immagination, to see it applied in real life.

Out of curiosity, I looked up recently the two proteins that tormented me for years, ENaC and SGK1, to see if they have ever transitioned from basic science to drug targets. And indeed they have!

ENaC is currently pursued by Parion Sciences, Spyryx Biosciences, Gilead Sciences (likely abandoned) and Mucokinetica while SGK1 is a drug target for Bionure, Visionary Pharmaceuticals and Proteus Discovery.

It is ironic that in my current role at the newly founded Industry Liaison Office for the Italian Cystic Fibrosis Research Foundation (CFF) the knowledge I gained during the PhD turns out to be quite useful. Not only the research in the cystic fibrosis (CF) field relies on similar experimental assays but ENaC itself is one of the targets pursued by companies looking to develop new CF treatment options.

Who would have guessed that hours spent recording ion currents in the eletrophysiology chambers and dwelling on the elusive connection between SGK1 and ENaC would not only be relevant for me once again but would actually help me in my day-to-day work, this time with an eye towards the patients and companies trying to develop new options for them.

Figure from: Johannes Loffing , Marija Zecevic et al.

American Journal of Physiology

April 2001 Vol. 280 no. 4, F675-F682

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