The laboratory carries on experimental and theoretical studies on ionizing radiation effects, with applications in the clinical use of radiation for diagnostics and therapy (including the risk of complications and secondary tumours), radiation protection, and also for manned missions in deep space.
In particular, the ultimate goal is to shed light on the fundamental mechanisms leading to damage at sub-cellular, cellular, tissue, organ and systemic levels, starting from the way in which physical interactions (track structure) deposit energy in the target. The radiation induced DNA damage and repair processes (and their relevance in inducing other biological endpoints) are investigated, along with intra- and extra signalling perturbation (bystander effect), and their anti- and pro-carcinogenesis implications. Ionizing radiation needs to be analyzed as a perturbing agent of a complex system that will react with complex behaviours and feedback phenomena, and may end up with a homeostatic equilibrium or with a pathological condition. Classical reductionist studies are combined with system, multi-scale approaches (systems radiation biology), also to integrate datasets on different radiation effects (e.g. pro-inflammatory responses, cell senescence).
The general objectives of applied research are:
§ to predict radiation risk particularly from low doses (cancer and non cancer, including cardiovascular effects) and its dependence on dose, dose rate and radiation quality (particularly for neutrons);
§ develop predictive and robust mathematical models of radiation action on biological systems;
§ to optimize the clinical use of radiation in diagnostics and therapy (e.g. risk of complications and of secondary tumours in radiotherapy, with photons and hadrons);
§ to use radiation as a probe to study the response of biological systems to external stimuli, e.g. in samples from patients with (rare) genetic diseases.
§ to assess the risk and develop countermeasures for missions in open space (e.g. mission to Mars).