The fibrillating beginning of my journey

Universitätsbibliothek of Freiburg from the Synagogenplatz.

It is crazy how time flies, one moment I was living under lockdown due to covid-19, and the next I am in Freiburg (Germany), starting a new experience and a new life.

As you may know from my presentation on the personalizeAF website, I started my academic career at the University of Padova (Italy), one of the most ancient universities in the world. With a strong background in engineering, I wanted to engage more towards medicine and for this I went to the UK and started my Master of Science (MSc) in Cell and Tissue Engineering. This experience definitely took me out of my routine and completely changed my situation and perspective, both on an academic and personal level. I went from living in my home country with my loved ones to living in a foreign country by myself. I progressed from studying “hard-core” bioengineering to a crossover with biology and from theoretical studies to lab work. Among other moments of my MSc project, I remember the first time I saw the cardiomyocytes that I personally derived from stem cells contracting. I cannot describe the excitement of seeing that after weeks of hard work, the cells actually contracted as they were supposed to! That is when I started to feel like I was part of something bigger than myself which inspired me to pursue a career in the cardiac field.

The academic experiences I had in both Italy and England gave me the chance to understand overlapping issues between biology, medicine and engineering. These issues, my constant desire to learn, and my newly found interest in cardiac research helped shape my next project. While looking for a project that matched my idea, I won a sponsored position to learn various aspects of computer programming and started working as a frontend web developer in an Italian company, challenging myself in a slightly different field.

When I read the call for applicants in the personalizeAF network and saw the project here in Freiburg, I thought “this is it”. So here I am, writing this post and thinking of everything that has happened since the I moved here, between lab work and settling in. Despite a bit of delay because of the global pandemic, everything went smoothly. The team in the institute has welcomed me with open arms and let me start with lab work right away! So far, I had the chance to learn and try new techniques and I already have results from my own cell isolation experiments, which is incredibly satisfying!

The cell isolation team I have been intensively working with during the past month.

The way I perceived Freiburg is as a lively city; during its characteristic Münstermarkt you can feel the vibes it transmits while eating its famous cheesecake. One thing I was impressed by is the amount of water channels there are and the way people are just used to jump over them without even watching their steps. I have not had the time to explore everything yet, but I am looking forward to discovering every corner of my new “home away from home”.

During the course of my project, I will investigate the functional heterocellular coupling between cardiomyocytes and fibroblasts in the context of atrial fibrillation (AF). I hope my work here in Freiburg will help gain a deeper understanding on the underlying mechanism of atrial fibrillation and, eventually, translate medical research into the clinical setting.

Seneca, a famous roman philosopher, once said Pertinacia impedimentum omne transcendit ostenditque nihil esse difficile, cuius sibi ipsa mens patientiam indiceret (Seneca, De Ira – lit. Perseverance will overcome any impediment and will demonstrate that nothing is difficult for those who have the will to self-imposing the use of patience.)


Typical street view of the city center with its characteristic water channel

This is the philosophy which I feel I am living by. Though I am aware that it will be a challenging project, perseverance and patience will be the key to facing it.

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