Measuring copper and iron for human and planet health

Campaign Complete. This project has ended on December 31, 2019. No more contributions can be made.

  • £2,560.00

    Pledged of £2,500.00 Goal

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All funds will be collected by December 31, 2019.

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Copper and iron are metals which bind to proteins, thus playing a key role in many reactions of human metabolism. However, experimental data demonstrate that alteration of copper and iron metabolism/distribution are implicated in the growth and spreading of tumors, onset and progression of neurodegenerative disorders, and development of genetic diseases. Furthermore, metals contribute to environmental pollution and food contamination.

Indeed, even if metals are present in undetectable quantities, they remain in water and are responsible (through biomagnification) for direct toxicity to humans and other life forms. The phytoremediation using microalgae is particularly promising as a way to reduce the presence of heavy metals in water intended for the human consumption.

Therefore, measurement of the levels of metals in biological samples of human origin, in water and food, is of pivotal importance to unravel the involvement of metals in various human diseases, to monitor the efficacy of new sustainable ways of removal of pollutants and to assess safe nutrition.

Research funding grants usually do not give the possibility to cover the maintenance and upgrading costs of the equipment necessary to carry out metal analyses (in our lab, atomic absorption spectrometer). This is why we need your help!

Mitochondria morphology determined by transmission electron microscopy in normal cells (A) or in cells from a mouse model of Friedreich’s ataxia (B) characterized by mitochondrial iron overload. In the disease model, mitochondria ultrastructure appears significantly altered with thickened cristae when compared to normal cells.

Our Goals

We want to study changes in concentrations of metals in several samples: serum of Alzheimer’s disease patients, oncologic patients, experimental models of tumors and Friedriech’s ataxia in order to understand any possible link between metals and diseases. Moreover, we will study food contamination (in particular honey which accumulates metals from the nectar and the water collected by bees) and also levels of metals in polluted waters, before and after the addiction of microalgae to evaluate the phytoremediation capability.

Therefore, a fundamental step of our research is the quantitation of metals by using a very expensive instrumentation (atomic absorption spectrometer), which requires continuous high-cost maintenance.

Why is this project Important?

Although the presence of metals in water and food can be in very small amounts, there is the possibility of biomagnification processes, that can induce accumulation of these toxic compounds and thus promote the onset of a disease.

Understanding the role of excess copper and iron for human health is fundamental for the proposal of new therapeutic strategies against a great variety of diseases, including cancer and neurodegeneration. In addition, measuring the concentrations of heavy metals in polluted waters and foods may highlight the presence of altered production chains and eventually identify the sources of contamination from the environment. This aspect will be very useful to the development of bioremediation strategies.

Research focused on metal-binding organisms will allow to fully understand the detoxification mechanisms that have evolved in nature and this supports us in elaborating technological innovations to decontaminate the environment in view of a more sustainable development.

Potential Outcomes

The outcomes of the project will be:
-the development of biotechnological remediation methods more sustainable than those currently used in this field. A ‘green approach’ to this problem foresees the use of cyanobacteria and microalgae in the bioremediation of metal-contaminated water, that represents an environmental problem worldwide with potential risk for human and ecosystem health;
-the increase of the knowledge on the mechanisms by which metals are involved in many important human diseases, with the aim to develop new therapeutic strategies against those diseases.

Our budget

Note, we reduced our goal from £6800 to £2500 and funds raised will help us complete phase 1 as described below.

Phase 1:

£ 1000 for water samples analysis
£ 1000 for analysis of human tumor cell samples
£ 500 for the spectrophotometer update

Total: £2500

Any further funds raised about this figure will go towards the below.

Stretch Goal 

£3000 Collecting samples: human samples, polluted waters (before and after treatment with microalgae) and food samples:
£3000 Preparation and processing of the samples
£8000 Atomic absorption spectrometer upgrade and maintenance


Our team

We are a team of academic researchers, with long lasting expertise in biochemistry of metals, neurodegeneration, cancer, food and water pollution and of young talented scientists (biochemists and botanists).

Luisa Rossi

I studied Biology and graduated in Biochemistry, i. e. the study of chemical reactions that occur in our cells and I continued my research at the  Karolinska Institutet, in Stockholm, Sweden, and then at the Faculty of Pharmacy in Toronto, Canada. Back in Rome, I kept working at the Department of Biology of the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, where I mainly study the role of copper in metabolism and in disease and its connection with iron metabolism. Moreover, my interest is also for other metals, important for pollution, such as lead and cadmium. My studies have been described in many reports, and published in quoted scientific journals. Currently, in addition to research, as Full Professor, I teach Biochemistry and Clinical Biochemistry to students of Biology and Biotechnology, trying to transmit them my passion for science and enthusiasm for discovery.

Anastasia De Luca

My scientific interest is mainly focused on the detoxifying mechanisms (not only from stress but also from drugs) within the cells. Therefore, during my master thesis and PhD, at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata” I studied  ways to prevent cancer cells from gaining drug resistance by investigating the role of the detoxifying enzyme Glutathione S-transferase P1-1 (GSTP1-1), in the acquisition of the resistance of cancer cells to the chemotherapic treatment. I used ruthenium- and gold-based GSTP1-1 inhibitors, and I also patented a novel GSTP1-1 inhibitor. I performed part of those studies at the Institut des Sciences et Ingénierie Chimiques, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, where I had the opportunity to work in an international research environment. The results obtained from this interesting research resulted in several papers published in peer review journals and also in one Italian patent. Moving from ruthenium to gold, through the birth of a son, I came to the study of another very important metal in human biology: copper. I am currently trying to unveil the role of this transition metal in the process underlying cancer cells metastatization.

Concetta Capo

After graduating in Biology, I started working in the field of biochemistry and cell biology, gaining a great deal of experience in most of the technical aspects of research in these fields. My contribution to the studies on the role of metals in biology is to be responsible for the acquisition of samples and the maintenance of the atomic absorption spectrometer. I am currently measuring the level of copper, iron, zinc in samples of patients with neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, Friedreich’s ataxia and in water polluted by lead or cadmium. In addition, I train students and young scientists to become familiar with this technique. Even though I am no longer very young, my enthusiasm for the challenges posed by research is still alive, and I hope I can still contribute to the advancement of knowledge and transmit the desire to work in the laboratory to future generations.

Angelo Gismondi

I got my Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata” (Rome, Italy). Nowadays, I am a young Associate Professor in General Botany at the Department of Biology of the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, and I am also a member of the Ph.D. School in Cellular and Molecular Biology. To date, I published more than 40 papers on peer-reviewed scientific journals of international value on the following topics: antineoplastic activity of synthetic and natural molecules on mouse and human cell lines; nutraceutical and antioxidant properties of plant compounds; honey and food chemical and molecular characterization. In particular, the latter topic strongly captured my attention because of the conviction that “we are what we eat”. For this reason, my research activities deal with the detection of dietary contaminants, directly acquired from polluted environments and sources, which may alter food quality and, consequently, the consumers’ health.

Lorenza Rugnini

I am a young researcher at the Department of Biology of the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”. During my Master’s degree, in 2012, I came across microalgae and we never left each other. Microalgae are microscopic photosynthetic microorganisms producing a lot of biocompounds useful in the fields of energy, photonics, aquaculture or as supplementary foods. Both during my PhD and Post-Doc activities, I studied the ability of microalgae to be used in bioremediation (phycoremediation), as an eco-sustainable and green technology in the removal of an excess of nutrients (carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus) and heavy metals (copper, nickel, cadmium) from wastewater. Phycoremediation is applicable to various types of wastewater including human sewage, livestocks wastes, agro-industrial wastes, pig farm wastewater, food processing waste and other agricultural waste substrates. In addition, microalgae have proven to survive in metal contaminated water and to be the best candidates for a highly effective removal of metals from aqueous solutions, reducing the concentrations of these toxic elements in less than 2 days. The results obtained from these studies have been published in several papers and disseminated in different national and international meetings.

Erika Bellini

I am a PhD student. Since I was a child, I have been fascinated by the complexity of the world we live in. Later on, the curiosity of understanding everything that surrounds us pushed me to study Biology. During my master thesis I met the fantastic world of cyanobacteria, the most ancient oxygen evolving photosynthesizers. These small prokaryotic organisms have modified the atmosphere of our planet, making it rich in oxygen and promoting the evolution of organisms as we know them today. Cyanobacteria were able to colonize all Earth’s habitat due to their capability of growing even in extreme and contaminated environments. Scientific research teaches us that we have to dig into the past to learn how to face the future. In this light, I am deeply convinced that the analysis of the mechanisms driving the adaptive capacity of cyanobacteria can help us to find creative solutions to face the challenges posed by the development of our society. This is the reason why my PhD project focuses on the study of cyanobacteria’ regulation mechanisms of metal uptake, even toxic ones, such as cadmium. I am convinced that the understanding of the detoxification solutions adopted by cyanobacteria to efficiently survive in contaminated environments can support us in elaborating technological innovations to decontaminate the environment in view of a more sustainable development.

Katia Aquilano

I got my degree in Biological Sciences and the Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”. Since the beginning of my scientific career my research interests are focused on the study of how environmental factors, such as nutrients, metals and redox stimuli, can modulate energetic metabolism. I am an Associate Professor in Biochemistry in the same University and I lead a very young and motivated research group. I am author of 67 research articles published on peer-reviewed international journals. Age-related and inherited diseases associated with metal dysmetabolism, such as Parkinson’s disease and Friedreich’s ataxia, are the main topics of my current research activity. My recent scientific interests strongly relies on the measurement of intracellular concentration of metals, especially iron and copper, as they play a central role in the development of metabolic alterations observed in Parkinson’s disease and Friedreich’s ataxia respectively.

Laura Bruno

I got my degree in Biological Sciences and the Ph.D. in Evolution Biology and Ecology. I am Researcher and Aggregate Professor at the Dept of Biology, Univ. of Rome ‘Tor Vergata”. Part of my research activity focus on the selection and characterization of cyanobacteria and microalgae as potential producers of biodiesel and other valuable compounds; the optimization of culture conditions for the production of algal biomass for biotechnological applications such as their employment in the bioremediation of wastewaters by removal of nitrogen, phosphorous and heavy metals. I believe as fundamental the multidisciplinary approach to bring innovation in different field of research. I am involved in various national and international projects as participant or Principal investigator and my research activity is presented in more than 60 publications in scientific journals, book chapters or congress proceedings and 95 participations in national and international meetings, five of which as invited speaker. I teach Botany and Plant biology applied to the Cultural heritage, to students in Biology and Biotechnology, and I am also supervisor of BS, MS and Ph.D. students. The interaction with students is fundamental for me in order to stimulate their attitude to the research activity and transfer my passion for these small but wonderful photosynthetic microorganisms that can give us a way to improve the quality of life, living in a safer environment.

To thank you for your support

With your help we will be able to keep our research going and help this nucleus of young people to improve their curriculum and their careers, thus representing the continuity between consolidated knowledge and innovation.

The results of the project will be presented by the young researchers in international meetings and published in high-impact journals reporting your fundamental contribution to this cause.

You may donate: 

£20 for each water/food sample analysis
£50 for each samples of human cells
£100  for each samples of human specimens
£500  for spectrometer upgrade

Or even more, if you can.

We thank you very much for your support!

Select your pledge amount


  • 13 Backers

    Thank you for supporting us! A pledge at this level pays for each water/food sample analysis

  • 12 Backers

    Thank you for supporting us! A pledge at this level pays for each samples of human cells

  • 7 Backers

    Thank you for supporting us! A pledge at this level pays for each samples of human specimens

  • 2 Backers

    Thank you for supporting us! A pledge at this level pays for a spectrometer upgrade

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  1. Andrea Battistoni
  2. Concetta Capo
  3. Paola Mazzetti
  4. Luisa
  5. Anastasia De Luca
  6. Anonymous
  7. Chiara Scacchetti
  8. Francesco Facchini
  9. Arianna
  10. Gianfelice De Luca
  11. Wee Han Ang
  12. Silvia Kogan
  13. lidia bettucci
  14. Mara Mennuni
  15. Nadia D'Ambrosi
  16. Ilaria Graziani
  17. Antonio Scacchetti
  18. Rosanna Squitti
  19. Jennifer Copley-May
  20. Laura Bruno
  21. Cristina e Pasquale e Pasquale
  22. Giuseppe Filomeni
  23. Vittoria Coltellacci
  24. MARIA Rosa Ciriolo
  25. Olga Rickards
  26. Paolo Marino
  27. antonella canini
  29. Lagana Santo
  30. Lagana Santo
  31. Emiliano Calcagni
  32. Angelo Gismondi
  33. Giulia Sancesario
  34. Lucia Marcocci

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General Overview

This Campaign has ended. No more pledges can be made.

  • 13 Backers

    Thank you for supporting us! A pledge at this level pays for each water/food sample analysis

  • 12 Backers

    Thank you for supporting us! A pledge at this level pays for each samples of human cells

  • 7 Backers

    Thank you for supporting us! A pledge at this level pays for each samples of human specimens

  • 2 Backers

    Thank you for supporting us! A pledge at this level pays for a spectrometer upgrade