Allegheny Health Network Recruits World-Renowned Diabetes Researcher, Team of 19 to Lead New Institute of Cellular Therapeutics

Pittsburgh, PA (PRWEB) June 11, 2014

Allegheny Health Network today announced that Massimo Trucco, MD, one of the world’s foremost physician-scientists with expertise in diabetes and immunogenetics, has been recruited to lead a newly established Institute of Cellular Therapeutics based at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH).

Joining Dr. Trucco in the transition of his program to AGH is a team of 19 researchers and support staff, including Alejandro Soto-Gutierrez, MD, PhD; Rita Bottino, PhD; Yong Fan, PhD; and Nick Giannoukakis, PhD. Their appointments all are effective July 1.

Dr. Trucco comes to Allegheny Health Network from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC where he has served for more than two decades as Director of Immunogenetics and has earned international acclaim for research pinpointing genetic predisposition to diabetes, identifying early indicators of diabetes onset and investigating new therapeutic options for the disease. He also serves as director of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation’s Center for Gene Therapy Approaches to Type 1 Diabetes and was founder and director of the Pediatric Research Section at the University of Pittsburgh Diabetes Institute.

Allegheny Health Network’s new Institute of Cellular Therapeutics will provide a venue for pioneering genetic immunologic research that builds upon the decades of work by Dr. Trucco and his team. The Institute will focus on developing state-of-the-art, innovative cellular and cell-based therapies for immune-mediated diseases – with a particular focus on Type 1 diabetes mellitus – as well as whole organ engineering to treat liver disease.

“Massimo Trucco is widely respected and recognized around the world for leading studies that have provided critical new information about the pathogenesis of Type 1 diabetes and have pushed us ever closer to a cure for this highly prevalent and deadly disease,” said Tony Farah, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Allegheny Health Network. “He and his team have contributed significantly to our region’s rich legacy of medical innovation and we are thrilled to welcome them into our Network as they continue their groundbreaking work.”

As an integral member of transplant surgery pioneer Dr. Thomas E. Starzl’s team in the 1980s, Dr. Trucco provided seminal insights into the immunology of pancreatic islet transplantation. More recently he and Dr. Bottino, built upon those findings to achieve the first gene-engineered pigs whose organs and tissues could avoid immune rejection. This discovery has paved the way to eventually bring organs from these animals into the clinic, thus avoiding the need for human donors.

In 1994, Dr. Trucco’s research yielded the first evidence that some patients with genetic susceptibility to Type 1 diabetes may have the onset triggered by viruses.

Along with Dr. Giannoukakis, he is credited with performing the first clinical trial in history using a patient’s own genetically engineered white blood cells as a potential treatment to reverse and prevent Type 1 diabetes. The protocol uses the white blood cells to prevent an autoimmune response in diabetics that destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.

“We believe breaking the immune cycle that causes Type 1 diabetes could be the key to a cure,” Dr. Trucco said. “Although more research needs to be done, that game changing discovery is within our reach and we are excited to move forward in its pursuit as part of Allegheny Health Network and the Allegheny Singer Research Institute. ASRI has a long and distinguished history of advancing medical breakthroughs through basic, clinical and translational research and we feel it is an ideal setting in which to take our research to the next level.”

Working to prevent and reverse the body’s autoimmune response, Dr. Trucco and Dr. Fan manufactured the world’s first biosynthetic thymus mini-organ; the training center of the body’s immune system and the place which removes harmful immune cells responsible for many autoimmune diseases, especially type 1 diabetes.

“We’re working to further develop and refine this discovery with the goal of bringing it to clinical application before the end of the decade,” Dr. Trucco said.

A native of Savona, Italy, Dr. Trucco earned his medical degree from the University of Torino School of Medicine. During his medical residency at the Regina Margherita Children’s Hospital in Torino, he conducted research in tissue compatibility that sparked an interest in bone marrow transplantation and other immunologic disease processes. He completed fellowship training at the Institute of Medical Genetics at the University of Torino.

His later research produced an improved typing process for matching bone marrow donors and recipients and Dr. Trucco directed the Histocompatibility Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, a program affiliated with the National Marrow Donor Program.

His research has received continuous financial support for 30 years by such prestigious institutions as the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense. He has published 360 scientific papers throughout his career and has been cited in more than 12,000 scholarly articles.

“It’s an incredible honor to bring a physician and scientist who has already achieved so much in the realm of diabetes and immunologic disease research to our organization,” said Alan Russell, PhD, Chief Innovation Officer, Allegheny Health Network. “By supporting research aimed at better managing, reversing or preventing diabetes and other immune mediated diseases, our New Institute for Cellular Therapeutics has the potential to help many patients. Dr. Trucco shares our vision and goal of bringing life-saving discoveries from the bench to the bedside as rapidly as possible.”

“In the case of diabetes and liver disease, the need for new and better preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic strategies is particularly urgent,” Dr. Russell said.

According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, more than 15,000 children and 15,000 adults—approximately 80 people per day—are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in the United States (US). As many as three million Americans have the disease, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the US and is a major cause of heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, lower limb amputations and blindness among adults.

The statistics on liver disease in the U.S. are equally concerning. Nearly 5.5 million Americans have chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection and as many as 75% of them are unaware that they have the disease. Liver disease is the 4th leading cause of death in the US between the ages of 45 and 54 years and primary liver cancer is one of the few cancers on the rise.

Research led by Dr. Soto-Gutierrez at the University of Pittsburgh, the McGowan Institute, Children’s Hospital and UPMC’s Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute, has focused on the development of new technologies for organ replacement using regenerative medicine approaches.

Dr. Russell said the scope of diabetes and immunogenetic research expected from the team in the new Institute is vast and impressive, from islet cell transplantation and immunomodulation to Type 1 diabetes cell and particle vaccines, biosynthetic organs like surrogate livers and insulin producing cells and new approaches to reprogramming immunity through hybrid cells and synthetic bio-scaffolds.

“We are confident that under Dr. Trucco’s leadership the Institute will quickly become a global point of reference for personalized cell therapies in the realm of autoimmunity and transplantation, with a special emphasis on Type 1 diabetes mellitus and liver disease,” he said.

The Institute for Cellular Therapeutics will be housed in the Allegheny Singer Research Institute laboratories at AGH.



Leave a Reply