Nominee: Valentina Pirro, Università di Torino, Italy
Nominated By: Marco Vincenti, Università di Torino, Italy
Supporting Comments: I support the nomination of Valentina Pirro for the 2014 Young Investigator Award. Valentina (aged 28) is less than 5 years into her bioanalytical career. Considering her young scientific age, she has an outstanding publication record, with 16 articles published in peer-reviewed journals, including Bioanalysis (3 papers). She has already developed an international profile and proved her abilities to work in diverse research environments. She spent one year in Prof. Cooks’ group at Purdue University. Since then, she started international collaborations with different research groups, contributing to aspects of cancer imaging, embryology, and stem cell studies by ambient MS. For these projects, she received the 2013 “Women in Science” Award, sponsored by UNESCO. She is the most talented and productive researcher I have ever had in my group. She is enthusiastic about science and very energetic in her pursuits, while remaining careful in her judgments. She shows capacity of independent thinking and ability to design scientific research. Her scientific activity shows high versatility, endless curiosity, and motivation. Besides her talent in research, Valentina has innate skills in leadership and partnership. Her positive attitude and character features, including deep honesty, respect, natural amity and dedication to work, are indeed noteworthy.
What made you choose a career in bioanalysis?
In bioanalysis, nearly every aspect and activity is supported by analytical measurements guiding clinical and/or legal decisions that deeply affect people’s lives. To improve reliability and robustness in the acquisition of these measurements, as well as the interpretation of their biochemical significance, continuous technological and methodological innovation is necessary. For this reason I decided to start a career in the field of bioanalysis and concentrate my efforts in the application of cutting-edge MS experiments and multivariate strategies of data analysis in several clinical-forensic applications. The challenge of introducing innovative procedures in a complex interdisciplinary world is also engaging.
Describe the main highlights of your bioanalytical research, and its importance to the bioanalytical community.
My research focuses on the application of cutting-edge MS experiments (e.g. UHPLC-MS/MS, profiling and imaging ambient MS) to develop innovative bioanalytical strategies for the determination of alcohol biomarkers, pharmaceuticals, and illicit drugs in biological matrices (e.g. oral fluid and hair). Continuous innovation of these methods is necessary to shift with changes in alcohol and drug abuse, and thus to properly respond to the needs of clinical and forensic toxicology. The assurance of high data quality and quantitative performance guides the development of feasible innovative procedures. The collaboration with the Center “A. Bertinaria” – a reference toxicology laboratory in Italy – gives me the ability to draw conclusions on method performances by investigating large cohorts of subjects. In parallel, my research aims to adopt multivariate statistics in bioanalysis in order to more efficiently and robustly analyze large sets of data, sometimes with the ambition of revolutionizing the current decision-making strategies of clinical diagnostics. In collaboration with Purdue University, my research includes the application of similar protocols, both referring to technological and methodological systems, to investigate lipid profiles in complex biological samples for cancer research and embryology studies on reproduction. Such samples include human tissue sections, stem cells, and animal embryos.
Describe the most difficult challenge you have encountered in the laboratory and how you overcame it.
During my MSc and PhD programs I had the opportunity to literally work the streets of Turin (Italy) during roadside drug testing, in collaboration with agents of a local police force and medical personnel. Moving from an analytical laboratory environment to an in-situ mobile setting was disorienting at first. The adverse and rushed working conditions and the necessity to interact with hostile drivers who underwent medical examination were real challenges. My personal experience as an emergency responder in the Italian Red Cross represented the additional skill which really allowed me to overcome the difficulties and stand out in this hands-on activity and, more in general, in several clinical settings. Working with different professional figures, completely extraneous to the field of bioanalysis, was challenging as well because of the lack of understanding of the scientific methodologies; however, what proved to be a difficulty at first became a strength later on, as working in an interdisciplinary environment allowed me to improve my communication skills and gave me the ability to approach a clinical or forensic problem with a more open view.
Where do you see your career in bioanalysis taking you?
I envision my research career proceeding in the same direction I am currently following: the application of ambient MS (profiling and imaging experiments) and multivariate statistics for ever newer and more complex clinical and forensic applications. I wish to maintain collaborations with both the prestigious Purdue University and Prof. Cooks’ research group, as well as Prof. Niemann’s group in order to achieve important results in the application of ambient DESI-MS for cancer research and embryology studies on reproduction. Both research groups are outstanding in their respective fields.
In a long-term career, I wish to establish myself in the field of bioanalysis, join international societies, and have the opportunity to share my knowledge and expertise with other professionals. Notably, I would like to be involved in the preparation of consensus documents and guidelines. I also wish to become a Professor myself and guide my own group of research. Teaching would provide a perfect means to show my enthusiasm and passion about science and inspire new generations of researchers.
How do you envisage the field of bioanalysis evolving in the future?
Regarding the applications of clinical-forensic toxicology that I am currently studying, I envision that multivariate data analysis will play a larger and larger role. I see this evolution occurring not only in clinical diagnostics for the definition of decision rules, but more generally, as an efficient and comprehensive way of approaching a dataset that encloses a huge amount of information. I foresee multivariate statistics being adopted to change and simplify validation strategies of analytical methods. Nowadays method validation represents a time and resource-consuming activity for data quality assurance, especially considering the frequency in which these methods are updated. Simultaneously, I envision drastic changes in the traditional workflow of toxicological investigations that confines MS in the analytical laboratory environment as a confirmatory technique, because of its complexity, cost, and the need for sophisticated sample pretreatment steps prior to analysis. Advancements of ambient MS are going to completely revolutionize the world of MS, allowing rapid and straightforward analyses of complex samples in their native environment, with almost no need for samples preparation. Great efforts are currently being made to miniaturize the equipment for in-situ applications. This technological innovation would allow the fusion of screening and confirmatory tests, both based on MS.
Please list 5 of your recent publications, and select one that best highlights your career to date in the field of bioanalysis.
1. Pirro V, Eberlin LS, Oliveri P, Cooks RG. Interactive hyperspectral approach for exploring and interpreting DESI-MS images of cancerous and normal tissue sections. Analyst 137, 2374–2380 (2012).
2. Ferreira CR, Pirro V, Eberlin LS, Hallett JE, Cooks RG. Developmental phases of individual mouse preimplantation embryos characterized by lipid signatures using desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. Anal Bioanal Chem. 404, 2915–2926 (2012).
3. Pirro V, Oliveri P, Sciutteri B et al. Multivariate strategies for screening evaluation of harmful drinking.Bioanalysis 5, 687–699 (2013).
4. Pirro V, Di Corcia D, Seganti F, Salomone A, Vincenti M. Determination of ethyl glucuronide levels in hair for the assessment of alcohol abstinence. Forensic Sci Int. 232, 229–236 (2013).
5. González-Serrano AF, Pirro V, Ferreira CR et al. Desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry reveals lipid metabolism of individual oocytes and embryos. PLoS One 8, e74981 (2013).
First choice: González-Serrano AF, Pirro V, Ferreira CR et al. Desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry reveals lipid metabolism of individual oocytes and embryos. PLoS One 8, e74981 (2013).
Reasoning: This article presents an innovative DESI-MS lipid analysis of individual microscopic bovine embryos followed by multivariate data analysis using a data fusion approach. The work describes how more than one large dataset may be rapidly obtained from the same intact sample by the state-of-the-art ambient MS experiments, which is not possible through traditional time and resource-consuming GC–MS protocols. The complex chemical information obtained in these experiments is then analyzed and presented in a comprehensive manner.