Elena Cattaneo

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Senator for life
Elena Cattaneo
Elena Cattaneo 2.png
Elena Cattaneo in 2015
Born (1962-10-22) 22 October 1962 (age 54)
Milan, Italy
Alma mater University of Milan
Spouse(s) Enzo Rivolta

Elena Cattaneo, OMRI (born 22 October 1962) is an Italian pharmacologist and co-founding director of the University of Milan's Center for Stem Cell Research.

Since 2013 she has been a Senator for life in the Italian Parliament.


Cattaneo was born in Milan. After graduating (summa cum laude) in pharmacy in 1986, she moved to Boston in the United States for a few years, where she specialized at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[1] She studied neural stem cell differentiation in the area of the human brain associated with degenerative diseases under Professor Ronald McKay. Another of her mentors was Professor Anders Björklund of the University of Lund. Cattanaeo spent a short time with him in Sweden learning grafting techniques that could be used on stem cells.[2] Returning to Italy she started her academic career in the University of Milan. She lived in Brugherio and worked in Milan.[3]

Former President Napolitano and Senator Cattaneo

Cattaneo was appointed to the Senate of Italy as a Senator for life, the youngest in Italian history, by then President Giorgio Napolitano on 30 August 2013, along with Claudio Abbado, Renzo Piano and Carlo Rubbia.[4] Her appointment was made in appreciation, and to encourage others, of a career in Science.[5]

Cattaneo has used her position to oppose unfounded claims made by companies offering stem cell remedies.[6] The scientifically unsupported claims were primarily being made by a private well-connected company called the Stamina Foundation which had been started in 2009. The Stamina therapy involved recommending stem cells for a range of conditions with little or no scientific proof of their efficacy. Journalists including prestigious employees of the journal Nature were lied to and threatened. The scientific community's consensus was against Stamina. Stamina took advantage of the well meaning supporters of very ill people who believed that Stamina's claims was their only hope.[7]

In 2012 the debate appeared to be settled when the Italian Medicines Agency declared Stamina's methods unsafe, however the Foundation appealed to their supporters and they appealed to the politicians and the courts. The courts cited compassion as the reason that they gave in to many of the 450 appeals who demanded the courts should allow patients to receive the stem cell "panacea". Some politicians went further and used government money to fund a multi-million-pound trial. It was not until August 2014 that a court in Turin demanded that not only should Stamina stop but their equipment should also be confiscated. This was possible because of the support of Cattaneo, a senator.[7] As soon as Cattaneo became a senator she used her senatorial powers to demand evidence against Stamina that others had been denied. January 2014 saw the beginning of 25 hearings by the 15-strong enquiry.[7] The eventual enquiry report demanded a number of points including that courts should always have scientific representation in cases of this sort.[7] It was reported that the "Stamina case ... shows the influence that individual scientists can have in fighting anti-science forces."[7]

Cattaneo has also been awarded the Medaglia teresiana by the University of Pavia, in 2013. In 2015, Nature dedicated an editorial to laud the work that Cattaneo and her supporters had achieved.[7]


  1. ^ "Elena Cattaneo". Il Sole 24 Ore. Retrieved 31 August 2013. 
  2. ^ Prof Elena Cattaneo, Unimi.it. Retrieved 10 August 2015
  3. ^ Life senator, MBNews. Retrieved 9 August 2015
  4. ^ Giorgio Napolitano nomina Claudio Abbado, Renzo Piano, Carlo Rubbia e Elena Cattaneo senatori a vita, The Huffington Post, August 2013, in Italian. Retrieved 10 August 2015
  5. ^ Stem Cell Person of the Year 2013: Elena Cattaneo, ipcell.com. Retrieved 10 August 2015
  6. ^ Stems Cells taking a stand against pseudoscience, Elena Cattaneo& Gilberto Corbellini, Nature, 16 June 2014. Retrieved 10 August 2015
  7. ^ a b c d e f "When right beat might". Nature. 518: 455. 24 February 2015. doi:10.1038/518455a. Retrieved 10 August 2015.