Fresh Faces, New Energy: Thomas Ciucci, Ph.D.

Sep. 30, 2020
Thomas Ciucci, Ph.D.

An assistant professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Ciucci recalls extracting DNA from lentils with salt and soap at age 12 and feeling excited by seeing how things work. Science teachers further ignited his interest in research, but there was a “problem.” He lived in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea on the island of Corsica. It’s a breathtaking place, for sure, but known more as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte and for tourism than for medical research.

After Ciucci earned a doctoral degree in Nice, France, he decided to move to the United States in 2012 to leverage a paramount discovery in the world of cancer research: that immune cells known as T cells can destroy tumors. As a post-doc at the National Cancer Institute, he took advantage of a boom in technology, allowing him to study how disease-fighting T cells respond to infections and how genes could make T cells into even better killers. His work fits well with the exciting opportunities that are unfolding as state-of-the-art forms of immunotherapy emerge to treat cancer.

When searching for his next move, Ciucci says he found synergy with Wilmot scientists and knew he would not be alone in Rochester, despite the distance from home. He’s using advanced technology and computational approaches to find gene changes within immune cells that could be used as a proxy to understand what T cells can accomplish against cancer. The potential for manipulating the immune system to clear the disease is excellent, he says: “It’s just a matter of time.”