Elena Cattaneo

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Person.png Elena Cattaneo  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(pharmacologist, researcher)
Elena Cattaneo.jpg
Milan, Italy
Alma materUniversity of Milan
SpouseEnzo Rivolta
Co-founding director of the University of Milan's Center for Stem Cell Research.

Employment.png Member of the Italian Senate

In office
30 August 2013 - Present
Senator for life. Attended Bilderberg 2018.

Elena Cattaneo is a pharmacologist and researcher into use of stem cells. She attended the 2018 Bilderberg. In 2021


Cattaneo was born in Milan, where she has lived since the end of the 1980s. After earning an honors degree in pharmacology in 1986 and a doctorate in biotechnology applied to pharmacology at the State University of Milan, she moved for a few years to Boston, where she began her research on brain stem cells in the laboratory of Professor Ron McKay at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology[1]. Back in Italy, she continues her research dedicating herself to the study of Huntington's disease. She became a researcher at the University of Milan; in 2001 she became associate professor and in 2003 full professor at the same university, holding various professorships.

Scientific career

She is now full professor at the Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Pharmacology of Neurodegenerative Diseases in the Department of Biosciences of University of Milan.[2] 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.[3] Of his choice of her as Senator for Life, President Napolitano said: "choosing her is meant as an appreciation and an encouragement for many Italians of the new generations who commit themselves, amid difficulties, to scientific research”.[4]

Cattaneo has used her position to oppose unfounded claims made by companies offering stem cell remedies.[5] 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.[6]

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.[6] 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.[6] The eventual enquiry report demanded a number of points including that courts should always have scientific representation in cases of this sort.[6] It was reported that the "Stamina case ... shows the influence that individual scientists can have in fighting anti-science forces."[6]

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.[6]

In 2016, Cattaneo helped raising concerns about three anti-GMO papers by Federico Infascelli at the University of Naples, which were later retracted from Nature.[7] Nature News reported that Cattaneo found that certain images in those papers had been deleted or tampered with, and that some images in different studies were identical, despite captions claiming that they were the results of novel experiments. Her suspicions led to an investigation by the University of Naples, which also found evidence of data manipulation.[8]

In 2017, Cattaneo and Ignacio Munoz-Sanjuan organized the event HD as part of a campaign called HDdennomore, pronounced “Hidden no more” (HD is an acronym for the Huntington's disease), which aims to relieve families of the stigma of the disease, particularly those in poor communities in South America where the condition is most common.[9] The event was brought about after Cattaneo wrote to Pope Francis last summer and asked him to meet with someone with the disease.[10]


Event Participated in

Bilderberg/20187 June 201810 June 2018Italy
Hotel Torino Lingotto Congress
The 66th Bilderberg Meeting, in Turin, Italy, known for months in advance after an unprecedented leak by the Serbian government.
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