Interview with Fabio Boniolo, PhD – computational biologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT
Could you briefly introduce yourself?
Hi! My name is Fabio Boniolo, I am 28 and I come from Italy. My background is in biomedical engineering and I have a PhD in computational biology and bioinformatics. Currently, I am a postdoctoral fellow in the department of Pediatric Oncology at Dana Farber Cancer Institute (Boston, US).
What are you working on as part of your research? What are you aiming for with that project?
My group focuses on the use of statistical and mathematical approaches to understand and characterize brain tumors in children. In my project, I am trying to better understand the mechanisms behind cancer initiation and progression in young patients. I do so by using new technologies that allow researchers to study single tumor cells at unprecedented resolution.
What makes your project attractive for you? What is your motivation to work in that field?
As it has happened multiple times throughout human history, recent technological developments and inventions (e.g., single cell technologies and the evolution of ML and AI) have paved the way to a new era of scientific discoveries in medicine and the life sciences. Being at the forefront of this transformation is incredibly exciting and motivating for me, as I rely on these emerging technologies to find concrete solutions that could impact the life of cancer patients worldwide.
What moved you to pursue a career as a postdoc?
While many factors played a role in my decision to pursue a postdoc, the main reason behind my choice was quite simple. I really enjoy doing research and I consider myself extremely lucky to get the chance to do this every day as a job. While science is definitely not the easiest career path, it can be incredibly rewarding. For example, it has given me the chance to travel the world and live in many different countries while meeting, and learning from, people from all walks of life.
What drew your attention to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute? What brought you to Boston?
Dana Farber is a highly advanced cancer center where research and clinical work go hand-in-hand with the goal of advancing cancer care and treatment. Moreover, Dana Farber is perfectly inserted in the thriving Boston ecosystem, global epicenter for the biomedical and life sciences. This combination made Boston the perfect destination for me and motivated me in looking for a new position in the area after my doctoral training.
How did the Covid lockdown affect your work?
As in the case for many people across the world, the pandemic represented a turning point for myself and my career. On the one hand, being a computational scientist allowed me to keep on working on my projects throughout the pandemic. On the other, the multiple lockdowns heavily hindered the possibility of building a network of peers and exchanging ideas with other scientists working on problems similar to mine.
Did Covid changed the way how the broad society perceive research? How did it affect the role of scientific communication?
I think the Covid19-pandemic has been a crucial moment for the scientific community. Citizens have had the chance to get a glimpse of the scientific process and of how scientists go about learning and understanding an unknown and complex phenomenon. Scientific communication, often neglected before the pandemic, has become an integrative section in any news outlet and many technical words have entered our everyday language. Importantly, I believe that scientists must now embrace their role, not limited to generating ideas within the walls of their laboratories but as active participants, and potential leaders, in the Public Square.
At what stage in your project schedule are you right now?
I would say I am still at the very beginning. I spent the past few months building the infrastructure necessary to deal with the complexity of my project. I am very excited for what is to come in the next few weeks and for all the patterns hidden in the data that are waiting to be uncovered.
Having a look at your professional perspective: Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?
Career can be extremely fluid nowadays and it is difficult for me to see so far in the future. I would like to dedicate my next few years to generating new ideas and fostering scientific discoveries that can have a positive impact on my community and society as a whole. Two pillars are going to be the foundation of my future endeavors, diversity and interdisciplinarity. Stay tuned!