My research focuses on understanding the relationship between nutrients and human health, at different stages of the life cycle, through the use of genetically modified animal models. Vitamin A has so far served as a "model nutrient" to investigate this issue. Vitamin A is essential to maintain vision, reproduction, development and immune function. Furthermore, retinoids (vitamin A and its derivatives) modulate cell growth, differentiation and apoptosis. Not surprisingly, alterations of the vitamin A status have been associated with human chronic diseases such as cancer. Moreover, dietary deficiency of vitamin A (VAD) is a serious widespread problem affecting more that 750 million people worldwide. Even a mild VAD status may increase maternal mortality or affect organogenesis in the fetus, inducing clinically silent anomalies that can have a severe impact on health later in life.
Currently, my research is expanding in two main directions: 1. Mechanisms of maternal-fetal transfer of vitamin A and carotenoids; 2. Control of prostate epithelium proliferation by vitamin A signaling.
My long-term goal is the integration of these two interests, aiming at the molecular understanding of how maternal-fetal nutrition affects onset and progression of chronic diseases, such as cancer, in the offspring.