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Meet the Scientists of Tomorrow

SoT nucleus members

Dr. Fabrizia Bonacina

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Area of expertise: dyslipidemia, atherosclerosis, adaptive immune response and T lymphocytes. 

Dr. Bonacina is Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Milan (Italy). She obtained the PhD at the University of Milan working on inflammation in cardiometabolic diseases, then she moved to the Cardiovascular Immunology Lab at the Queen Mary University of London, where she investigated Tcell activation under dyslipidemia. 
Combining the expertise on lipid metabolism and immune response, the goal of her current research is to identify novel molecular targets to prevent immune-inflammatory activation in cardio-metabolic diseases taking advantage from humanized models. 
Dr. Bonacina received inter/and national awards and grants (Cariplo and Roche Foundations, Ministry of University and Research) for her work and is member of the European Lipoprotein Club OC and of the Young Fellows of the European Atherosclerosis Society.

Dr Romain Capoulade

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Area of expertise: pathophysiology of valvular heart diseases. 
Dr Romain Capoulade obtained his PhD in Experimental Medicine from Laval University in Québec, Canada in 2014, where he investigated the metabolic determinants associated with the development of calcific aortic valve stenosis. He pursued his career at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston, working on pathologies affecting the mitral valve. 
Following these two international experiences, Romain joined the INSERM U1087 laboratory in Nantes, France, and developed a research program focused on the understanding and characterization of cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the development and progression of heart valve diseases. His research is supported by national (ANR, French Society of Cardiology, French Federation of Cardiology) and European grants (ERA-CVD, Marie Sklodowska Curie IF). In 2020, he was elected as a member of the young researcher nucleus at the French research group on cardiovascular diseases and implemented actions dedicated to young scientists working in the field.

Dr. Carolina Balbi 

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Area of expertise: Paracrine communication, extracellular vesicles, heart fibrosis, cardiac repair and regeneration.
Dr. Balbi started her research on paracrine communication in cardiovascular disease during her PhD at University of Genoa, Italy. As a PhD student she investigated the role of human amniotic fluid stem cells secretome as therapeutic tool for myocardial infarction. After her PhD degree, in 2018 she moved as PostDoctoral fellow in the Cellular and Molecular Cardiology lab of the Laboratories for Translational Research at Istituto Cardiocentro Ticino-Ente Ospedaliero Cantonale (ICCT-EOC), Switzerland. Here she continued her research on the therapeutic and regenerating potential of extracellular vesicles from human cardiac mesenchymal progenitor cells on different cardiovascular disease. In 2021 she got her first research grant, from Swiss Heart Foundation, becoming project leader in the lab. Her current research is aimed to understand the role of circulating extracellular vesicles in healthy and pathological conditions. She recently developed a 3D model of human heart combining iPS-derived cardiomyocyte, cardiac fibroblast and aortic endothelial cell; a fundamental tool to upgrade the results obtained during her research.


Dr. Jan Willem Buikema

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Since 2009 Dr. Jan Willem Buikema has studied the effects of embryonic Wnt signals on growth of the ventricular chambers and pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes. Scientifically, Jan Willem is interested in the molecular targets for the prevention and/or cure of diverse genetic forms of cardiomyopathy in men and women. Unlike, most current medical treatments in heart failure, the future of patient-tailored therapies acknowledge the diversity between patients and will lead to “one-pill-per-patient” regimens. Dr. Jan Willem Buikema combines his research interest as a cardiologist at the Amsterdam Heart Center, specialized in heart failure treatment. Previously, Dr. Buikema trained as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, Stanford University and Utrecht Medical Center. At a national level Jan Willem is involved in Young @ Heart;  Heart and the Dutch Cardiovascular Alliance. Jan Willem is excited to join SoT and promotes diversity and inclusivity among ESC.


Dr. Soumaya Ben-Aicha


Area of expertise: hypercholesterolaemia, cardioimmunology, preventive cardiology, coronary artery disease

Dr Soumaya Ben-Aicha earned her PhD at the Hospital Santa Creu i Sant Pau, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain. During her PhD programme, she studied the impact of hypercholesterolaemia over the HDLs on coronary artery disease and consequent myocardial infarction in large-animal models. Moreover, her intense contribution to further projects, based on the pleiotropic effects of statin-treatment, resulted in intellectual property and collaboration from the private sector as well as numerous publications as first and co-author. Dr Ben-Aicha did a stay at the Universitatklinikum-Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany, to analyse in parallel the impact of statins on the cardiovascular rhythm.

She later moved to London as a postdoctoral research associate at the Imperial College London (ICL), founded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). She is currently working on the impact of human-derived nanoparticles on macrophages and T cells in the pre-clinical and clinical arena while being involved in university teaching work.

Dr Ben-Aicha presented all those studies at different congresses, receiving prestigious honours and awards at the national and international level (ESC, ESCI, SEC, FCBV…).

Dr. Emiel van der Vost


Area of expertise: atherosclerosis, chemokine-receptors, high-density lipoproteins, immune-lipid crosstalk

Dr. Emiel van der Vorst obtained his PhD in Cardiovascular Biology and Medicine from the Cardiovascular Research Institute Maastricht (CARIM), The Netherlands in 2015, by studying the effects of high-density lipoproteins on inflammation. For his postdoctoral period he investigated the role of chemokines and chemokine-receptors in atherosclerosis at the Institute for Cardiovascular Prevention (IPEK) in Munich, Germany, resulting in several high-impact publications. Since 2019, he has worked as group leader at the Institute for Molecular Cardiovascular Research (IMCAR) in Aachen, Germany, as well as at CARIM and IPEK.

Currently his research is focusing on elucidating various mechanisms by which the lipid metabolism interacts with the immune system in the context of cardiovascular disease, especially atherosclerosis.

His work is funded by various prestigious (inter)national personal grants and he is member of the editorial boards of several cardiovascular focused journals.

SoT advisors

Dr. Gemma Chiva-Blanch, Spain


Area of expertise: Extracellular vesicles as biomarkers of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases; Nutrition and atherothrombosis

Dr. Gemma Chiva-Blanch obtained a PhD in Medicine from the University of Barcelona, Spain. During this period, she investigated the effects different food compounds and dietary patterns on cellular and soluble biomarkers of atherosclerosis. She obtained two postdoctoral competitive contracts from the Spanish Government, to work at the Catalan Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences (ICCC) in Barcelona. There she studied the potential of extracellular vesicles as biomarkers of different cardiovascular pathological stages. She performed a research stage at the Centre for Clinical Heart Research, Department of Cardiology, Oslo University Hospital Ullevål, Norway, deepening into the relationship between thrombosis, myocardial infarction and cardiovascular mortality and the levels and phenotype of extracellular vesicles.

She is currently a CIBEROBN Research Fellow at the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS) of Barcelona, Spain. Her current research is primarily focused on the role of extracellular vesicles in atherothrombosis, diabetes and obesity, as well as on the study of the influence of diet in extracellular vesicle shedding in the context of cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Julien Barc, France


Area of expertise: genetics, epigenetics and molecular mechanism of ventricular arrhythmia

Julien Barc’s group leads genetics and epigenetics research programs on the inherited cardiac arrhythmia at l’institut du thorax in Nantes, FR where he obtained his PhD in genetics of ventricular cardiac arrhythmia. Julien spent 5 years at the department of Experimental Cardiology of Amsterdam, a world leader group in genetics and functional studies on cardiac arrhythmias. He dedicated this early part of his carrier to identify new syndromes, genes and mutations associated with inherited cardiac arrhythmia at risk of sudden death. More recently Julien developed research programs on patient population to investigate the role of common variants in cardiac disorders. He also participates to a national program on the French genome variability “GOLD”. Lastly, our capability to sequence the entire genome (i.e non-coding region) conducts Julien to explore the role of regulatory region by genome editing in induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes. His research is supported by national (ANR, French Federation of Cardiology, regional council rising star grants) and European grants (European Joint Programme on Rare Diseases, Marie Sklodowska Curie IF, ESC research grant). Julien received prestigious awards such as the French Cardiology Society Prize Edouard Coraboeuf and the Descartes-Huygens prize from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Till 2020, he was co-leading the “Réseau Avenir GRRC” a national network on cardiovascular research dedicated to young fellows.


Meet the Working Groups representatives