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Ongoing Research Projects in the Anatomy Department

Externally Funded

•  Stem-Cell and Leukaemia differentiation

Funding:  Biotech Industry.

Principal Investigators:  Dr Pierre Schembri-Wismayer and graduate students Annalise Cassar and Charlene Grech and visiting student Elisa Maria Hess.

Summary:  Cord blood and parts of the umbilical cord itself is collected with maternal consent (and ethical approval).  Cord blood cells and leukaemic cell lines are exposed to different combinations of known chromatin modifiers or differentiation agents together  with more complex biological extracts shown to have differentiation effects.  Differentiation is assessed by means of enzymatic tests and/or flow cytometry.  Other work involves expansion of hematopoietic progenitor cells ex vivo, using chromatin -modifying agents, different stromal cells, biological extracts and biological/semi-synthetic matrices.

•  The Genetics of Mental Retardation in Malta

This is a joint project being performed in collaboration with the Istituto di Genetica, Università del Sacro Cuore, Roma.

Funding:  Grants from the Sixth Italian Protocol and the Sovereign Order of Malta (SMOM).

Investigators:  Professor Alfred Cuschieri (Department of Anatomy, University of Malta); Professor Giovanni Neri, (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Rome); Dr Edith Said, Mr Sherif Suleiman, Mr J. Ellul, (Department of Anatomy, University of Malta).

Summary:  The aim of this project is to review past and current cases of Mental retardation in the light of recent advances in genetics.  Individuals resident at "Dar Tal-Providenza", a home for mentally retarded individuals, were reviewed clinically, screened for the Fragile X syndrome and had cytogenetic analysis, telomere analysis and Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization (FISH) for single gene disorders.  The same techniques are being used on mentally retarded individuals residing with their families and seen at the clinical cytogenetics clinic at Mater Dei Hospital.  This study has brought to light a number of genetic anaomalies and dysmorphology syndromes that were previously undiagnosed.

•  Screening of Maltese Medicinal & Aromatic Plants for Pharmacological Activity

This is a joint project with the Institute of Agriculture in the University of Malta.

Funding:  Grant from the National RTDI Programme.

Principal Investigators:  Dr Everardo Attard, Institute of Agriculture, University of Malta, Professor Alfred Cuschieri, Department of Anatomy, University of Malta.

Summary:  Several Maltese medicinal and aromatic plants are reputed to be medically useful to cure various ailments.  This study investigates the true pharmacological activity of extracts of these medicinal plants as regards their cytotoxic, proliferative and other effects on human normal and cancer cells in culture.  Alongside this, we shall catalogue the presence or absence of these medicinal plants and their relative abundance in the wild, to shed light on which plants are endangered.  This study will investigate which plants might have potential commercial value.

•  Tumour Immunotherapy

Funding:  Malta Government Scholarship Scheme.

Principal Investigators:  Dr Pierre Schembri-Wismayer and graduate student Yanika DeBattista.

Summary:  One of the major problems with tumours is that they can escape the immune system as shown by the increase in tumours found in patients with immunosuppressive drugs.  Re-activating the immune system – due to its capability to scour the whole body for errant tumour cells is therefore a very attractive method of potential therapy.  Our research focuses on such reactivation in gastrointestinal tumours using techniques of tissue culture and cellular fusion between tumour cells and stem cells of different types.

Internally Funded

•  Bioactivity of Local Plant and other natural extracts

Principal Investigators:  Professor Marie-Therese Camilleri-Podestà, Dr Pierre Schembri-Wismayer, with various graduate and undergraduate students including Elizabeth Zammit and Stephanie Darmanin, Denise Buhagiar and others:  Department of Anatomy, University of Malta, Dr Godfrey Grech, Pathology Department, Mr Joseph Buhagiar, Biology Department, Faculty of Science.

Summary:  The Department of Anatomy in conjunction with the Departments of Biology, Pathology, and the Curator of the University Botanical Gardens, at the University of Malta is carrying out in vitro testing on human cancer cell lines to assess cytotoxic effects.  We are using various extracts from local conifers and flowering plants, members of the lamiacae and asteraceae as well as Maltese honeybee propolis.  The main work has concentrated on the induction of apoptosis on specific cancer cell lines and comparison of activity with normal cells.  There is ongoing collaboration with the Department of Bioorganic Pharmacy of Pisa to analyse the oil extracts being used.  Collaboration is also ongoing with the Cancer Research Laboratory at Nottingham University to further understand the mechanism of apoptosis induced by such extracts.

•  Gene Regulation in Differentiation and Disease

Researchers:  Dr Pierre Schembri-Wismayer and graduate student Byron Baron.

Summary:  Differences in gene expression underpin all functions of the body in health as well as in disease as well as the formation of the structures needed for these functions.  An important part of the puzzle is to understand the regulation of gene expression resulting in these phenotypes.  In cancer, differences in gene regulation and gene expression are responsible for the behaviours of cancer.  Our research involves understanding the regulation of transcription factor activity and interplay with other cellular factors.  The factors studied play a role in leukaemia differentiation and possibly also in some congenital diseases like Down's syndrome.

•  Other Clinical Research

Principal Investigators:  Dr Pierre Schembri-Wismayer together with Dr Safraz Ali and number of undergraduate medical students as well as graduate students as well as other collaborations with clinicians from Mater Dei Hospital and specialists from other governmental authorities.

Summary:  This involves a number of small studies into the genetics of local breast cancer predisposition, the genetics of rare cases of drug resistance, genetics of certain infectious diseases, occasional animal genetics studies and analysis of operating and clinical procedures amongst others.

•  Biomechanics

Principal Investigators:  Dr Pierre Schembri-Wismayer, Mr Aaron Casha and a number of undergraduate medical students in collaboration with Dr Ing. Zdenka Sant from the Faculty of Engineering, University of Malta.

Summary:  This involves at present a couple of small undergraduate studies into alternative means of locomotion support for obese people with painful joints.  These initial studies are now being offered for continuation at a post-graduate level through the Engineering department of the University of Malta.

•  Pedagogic Research - various

Principal Investigators:  Dr Isabel Stabile as well as Dr Pierre Schembri-Wismayer (together with Professor M.T. Camilleri-Podestà and Professor A. Cuschieri and Dr Micallef Hawkes) – the latter collaborating with other colleagues in the Physiology Department, (UoM) and in the Anatomy Department, (University of Cambridge).

Summary:  In these projects, we analyse the feedback of students over a number of years and compare issues arising between different types of students, different universities and different departments.



Externally funded projects (partially or wholly)

A. Casha

Grant R & I 2011-3 for project ‘Stent – manufacture, architecture, research, treatment (SMART STENTS)’.  Value Awarded: €160,555.

I. Stabile

FP7 HEALTH 2007 BETTER USE OF MEDICINES (Total Budget 1.2 Million Euros, 2010-2013) Assessing Over-The-Counter Medications In Primary Care And Translating The Theory Of Planned Behaviour Into Interventions.  The project aims to identify influential factors in prescribing over-the-counter medication as well as in the inappropriate use of medicines in primary care settings in various Southern European countries, and to implement pilot interventions in order to test the effectiveness of the proposed modifications. 

MEDTRA Project (Total Budget 100,000 Euros; 2007-2011) Dr. Stabile serves as the Malta coordinator of the MEDTRA project, a TEMPUS MEDA action, funded by European Commission which enables universities from EU Member States to cooperate with the Mediterranean partner countries in higher education modernisation projects.  The MEDTRA Project’s primary objective is to design and implementing a Masters Course in Occupational Medicine for medical doctors in Syria.

FP7 ICT for Patient Safety TRANSLATIONAL RESEARCH AND PATIENT SAFETY IN EUROPE (Total Budget 9 Million Euros, 2010-2015).  The Electronic Primary Care Research Network for Europe aims to build on work funded by the US National Institutes of Health, to create a set of tools for the linkage of health record and research data, identification of suitable subjects for research, management of data elements and forms and semantic interoperability.  The project will improve the safety of subjects entering clinical trials and also specifically improve patient safety by providing generic diagnostic decision support for primary care.


Various grants obtained from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London, including the Green-Armytage Award, Overseas Travel Fund and Ethicon Award in order to fund the lab-work carried out as part of my PhD at UCL, London

P Schembri-Wismayer

MCST funded project HOTSPOTS Investigation of chaperone modulators as regulators of diabetes, cancer, and stem cell expansion.  2009-2011 With ICP at Mosta Technopark.


EU COST Action:

Master of Laparoscopic Surgery

To be offered in October 2018

Last Updated: 13 November 2014

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