Real Scientists is in the Netherlands this week with Irina Mancini (@irina_mancini), a veterinary doctor and PhD candidate in veterinary medicine at the Department of Equine Sciences at Utrecht University. We chatted with Irina about her work, animals, and regenerative medicine.
Welcome to Real Scientists! Can you tell us a bit about how you got into veterinary medicine research?
I am a veterinarian but was always fascinated by the idea of pushing the boundaries of knowledge and exploring new therapies, and that’s how I got into clinical research first and then regenerative medicine.
I have always found the musculo-skeletal system interesting , and joint diseases like osteoarthritis. I found out that some research groups were involved in a novel approach using cells and degradable materials to help the body naturally heal and regenerate bone and cartilage, rather than try to manage symptoms. This relatively new field is blooming, and there are so many interesting approaches and strategies to pursue to address joint degeneration, which makes it very appealing to me.
What kind of methods do you use in your research?
During my PhD, I worked in a large consortium called HydroZONES that had both companies and universities collaborating to design from-scratch scaffolds for regeneration of cartilage based on a soft, cell-friendly material rich in water (hydrogel) combined with different types of cells. Being a veterinarian, my work has been focusing on translational science: this is, the branch of research that aims to bring promising strategies and therapies as close as possible to being available to patients.
What do you want the public to know about your work?
Regenerative medicine is a relatively new field, and it offers many opportunities: if we could design a scaffold that successfully induces regeneration of cartilage and bone, this could allow athletes to recover fully after injuries, but it could also be a valid alternative for joint replacement. However, because there is a lot of potential, there are also maybe undefined expectations in the lay public of what can be realistically achieved in the next 10-20 years, so I think it would be great to get a chance to explain the limitations and opportunities of regenerative medicine.
What do you do when you’re not in the lab?
I take care (part time) of the science communication to the scientific community for the Regenerative Medicine Centre Utrecht, so I recently started a blog to discuss and showcase our research (https://rmscientist.blog/). I am also very involved in outreach events that we organize for the larger public and donors. I have been told I am a pretty good pastry chef. Definitely a bullet journal enthusiast and a terrible lindy hop dancer. My husband is a video-maker (for science mostly), so sometimes helping him out is a lot of fun.
What does a perfect day off look like for you?
Late breakfast with my husband, and then off with our dog for a long walk in the park, or to the seaside if the weather allows it (not very often in Netherlands). Out with friends for dinner or if it’s particularly cold, we all stay in for an evening of board games and wine.
Irina Mancini, welcome to Real Scientists!