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Global Health
Italy: ‘Il Bel Paese’ with many faces

by Carmine Gentile, Ph.D. student
Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology
Geographically located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy (Il Bel Paese—which means beautiful country) is the bridge between a variety of cultures within the pillars of Hercules. Thanks to its characteristic shape of a boot, Italy stretches from North to South and includes Sicily and Sardinia. For this reason, Italy was an easy landing place for several populations that were completely different.
Digging history from the Italian soil means discovering the cultures that influenced Italy during the centuries. For instance, Greeks landed to the South of Italy in the region called “Magna Græcia,” which is Latin meaning “Greater Greece,” where the famous mathematician Pythagoras lived. Later on, the Romans took over, leading one of the largest empires in the ancient world until the barbarians arrived from Eastern Europe and the Middle Ages began.
It is finally during the Italian Renaissance that the culture flourished again and gave birth to many artistic masterpieces, such as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Arabic, Norman, Portuguese and Spanish cultures also influenced Italy. As a consequence of previous dominations, Italy is characterized by the official “Italian” language as well as many different dialects with  their peculiar linguistic structures. That is why in Venice the word “street” is the Spanish word “calle” instead of the Italian word “strada.” The official Italian derived from Tuscan, Dante’s language, was chosen only after the reunification of Italy in 1861.

Today Italy is known abroad for its food, fashion and cars to name a few areas. In the scientific field, Italy maintains a remarkable place thanks to many past and present contributors. However, other scientific heroes present in the Italian society have had to struggle daily with an academic situation that is leading to more scientists leaving Italy.
Rita Clementi, a 47-year-old researcher, moved to the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston to pursue her studies in lymphoma in 2009. Her open letter to the president of the Italian Republic, written before leaving Italy, underlies the problems present in the Italian scientific world. Her stance becomes the voice for many others.
Italy keeps offering its image of “Bel Paese” to the rest of the world every day. However, several scientists have to face the sad reality that to achieve their scientific goals, they have to leave Italy.

Major contributors
  • Lazzaro Spallanzani, biologist and physiologist who focused his studies on animal reproduction and destroyed the idea of spontaneous generation.
  • Marcello Malpighi greatly extended the science of embryology by using the microscope.
  • Camillo Golgi, physician, pathologist, scientist, Nobel Prize in medicine in 1906 for his studies of the structure of the nervous system.
  • Rita Levi Montalcini, neuroscientist, Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1986 for her studies of neuronal apoptosis
  • Renato Dulbecco, Nobel Prize in medicine in 1975, who discovered the Poliomyelitis virus
  • Elisabetta Dejana, identified an important endothelial cell junction molecule, VE-Cadherin.

Clinician’s corner
A 20-year-old athletic American man presents with mild fatigue, malaise, myalgia, sore throat and mild headache. His posterior cervical lymph nodes are slightly enlarged, but tender and movable. Fever is low-grade and intermittent. Patient appears slightly anemic. He came back one week ago from a trip to Italy where he stayed in Florence for the summer studies. You suspect an infectious mononucleosis (IM) and the laboratory tests confirm the diagnosis.
The patient is a runner and planning to competitively run at the Cooper River Bridge event in Charleston and he is asking you if he can run at the event.

A) Yes, you can run the competition but only if you take acyclovir for one week
B) Yes, you can run the competition but only if you take prednisone during the next two weeks
C) No, you cannot run the competition but you can walk
D) No, you cannot run or walk because you are highly contagious and need to be in isolation
E) You may be able to run but I have to do more tests to determine if you are imunocompromised

The correct answer is C. Excessive physical activity during the first month should be avoided to reduce the possibility of splenic rupture. Glucocorticoid therapy is not indicated for uncomplicated IM and, in fact, prednisone may actually predispose to bacterial superinfection. Corticosteroids should only be used for severe and complicated forms of IM. Acyclovir has had no significant clinical impact on IM, and the isolation of patients with IM is unnecessary.

Editor's note: The Global Health page focuses on raising awareness of international health issues through an academic venue with the purpose of improving the quality of care for patients. E-mail

Friday, April 2, 2010

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