We are very excited to welcome Dr Mario Falchi and his team, who have relocated to the Department of Twin Research (DTR) from Imperial College London. Mario originally worked at the DTR as a senior statistical geneticist before moving to Imperial College and has now returned with his own group. During his time at Imperial College he was also working on twin data, collaborating with us on numerous papers and projects. One of our most exciting collaborations together during this time using data on height, weight and biochemical markers from TwinsUK visits, led to the discovery that obesity in some people is related to the number of copies of a gene coding for a carb-digesting enzyme. This enzyme breaks down starch to sugar in our mouth and is called ‘salivary amylase’. The findings, published in Nature Genetics and widely reported by the media, showed for the first time a link between obesity and carbohydrate digestion, thus suggesting that personalised dietary advice based on an individual’s DNA may be a way forward in the fight against obesity.
Mario has a keen interest in the study of the basic physiological processes whose disruption ultimately lead to diseases, and this is the main reason he returned to the DTR. In his own words – “Twin data from TwinsUK is a very valuable resource for my research, as the twins do not join the registry due to their medical history and are therefore representative of the general UK population. This allows computational biologists such as myself access to a wealth of valuable information to better understand both human health and disease. It is also particularly important that so many of the twins return to the DTR for multiple visits, which is helping science to comprehend how our physiology evolves over time’.
Together with his group, he will be using genetic, clinical and biochemical data from twins to discover new insights into human physiology, including metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes, renal diseases, ageing, and cancer. They will use computational approaches to combine information to obtain a “systemic view” of how our body works and to identify those parts of the system that are likely to change in the disease state. This will allow the identification of biomarkers for early detection of diseases and potential drug targets.
With so many great ideas and so much experience, we are looking forward to Mario and his team’s future research success and scientific findings, and would like to wish them a hearty welcome.
From Left to Right: Marianna Sanna, Irina Glotova, Alessia Visconti, Mario Falchi, Simone Ribero