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Cinzia Di Pietro


Professor Cinzia Di Pietro

Cinzia Di Pietro is Associate Professor of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, School of Medicine, University of Catania. In 1995, she obtained the specialisation in Medical Genetics magna cum laude at the University of Catania and, in 1992, a PhD in Biochemical Science and Molecular Biology at the University of Bari. She is a Member of the Education Committee of the School of Medicine and in 2017 she was appointed Deputy President of the Degree Course in Medical Biotechnologies.

Professor Di Pietro is a Member of the Italian Association of Biology and Genetics (AIBG), the Italian Society of Embryology Reproduction and Research (SIERR), the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) and the Accademia Gioenia (University of Catania). She is a member of the MicroRNA Editorial Board and serves as reviewer for various international journals.

Her research activity focuses on regulation of gene expression in human cells and its effects on cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and female infertility. In recent years, she has also studied the role of non-coding RNAs (microRNAs and long non-coding RNAs) in the regulation of gene expression and their alteration in biological pathways involved in human diseases. In the field of Reproductive Biology, her research group analysed specific expression profiles of mRNAs, in particular the different subunits of General Transcription Factor TFUD and the genes encoding apoptotic machinery in human MII oocytes. Moreover, they analysed the miRNome of human oocytes and its deregulation related to female aging. They characterized exosomes and their miRNA cargo in human follicular fluid, identifying miRNAs performing their role in folliculogenesis and oocyte maturation. Finally, they determined the alteration of gene expression in human endometrium related to chronic endometritis and implantation failure, and identified two circulating miRNAs differentially expressed in women with chronic endometritis.

Professor Di Pietro conducts research in collaboration with various national and international groups, has published several papers in international journals (Scopus h-index 20) and participated as speaker at national and international congresses.

Project: Isolation and characterisation of blastocoel fluid microRNAs from single blastocysts. Multiple comparative analyses to identify molecular markers of embryo quality in human assisted reproductive technologies.

The choice of the embryo most likely to result in a pregnancy is a crucial step in in vitro fertilisation cycles. Although numerous papers suggest using biochemical and molecular analysis to detect the most suitable embryo to transfer, morphological evaluation is currently the method most widely used to assess embryo quality. Identification of specific markers of high embryo quality using a minimally invasive procedure is a major research area in contemporary reproductive medicine, the aim of which is to achieve high pregnancy rates and reduce time to live birth with a single embryo transfer. Besides a DNA approach to investigate embryo health, miRNAs synthesized by blastocyst cells and secreted in culture media, in vitro, can be used to explore embryo reproductive competence. Preliminary data from our group demonstrated that miRNAs secreted from a blastocyst within the blastocoel cavity, in blastocoel fluid (BF), reflect the miRNome of embryonic cells. The expression profiles of these miRNAs should represent embryo developmental competence and could be used as prospective markers of implantation and pregnancy. Therefore, miRNAs in BF could be used to assess embryo quality. MiRNAs detected in the blastocyst cavity could be more specific and less at risk of extraembryonic contamination, as can occur in spent culture medium.

The aim of this project is to provide an objective and minimally invasive tool able to define blastocyst quality and predict implantation potential and a normal karyotype. We will perform a detailed transcriptomic analysis of BF from single embryos to define unique miRNA signatures able to identify the embryos that have high developmental potential regardless of morphological appearance. Blastocoel fluid will be collected from single embryos of high and low morphology grade and analysed for miRNA expression. In each group, the outcome of implantation, birth or miscarriage, and karyotype will be traced following standard clinical practice. The data obtained from the different comparisons will be used to build 4 miRNA signatures. The selection of the blastocyst, based on reliable and minimally invasive molecular biomarkers, could improve the success of embryo transfer and reduce time to live birth with consistent benefits for couples undergoing IVF treatments.