Renato Dulbecco, Italian American Physiology, Died at 97

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Dead, Renato Dulbecco on February 19, 2012, he was an Italian American, who won the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on oncoviruses, which are viruses that can cause cancer when they infect animal cells.

Born in Catanzaro (Southern Italy) on February 22, 1914, but spent his childhood and grew up in Liguria, in the coastal city Imperia, he graduated from high school at 16, and then moved to the University of Turin.

Despite a strong interest for mathematics and physics, he decided to study medicine.

At the age of 22, he graduated in morbid anatomy and pathology under the supervision of Professor Giuseppe Levi.

In 1962, he moved to the Salk Institute and then in 1972 to The Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now named the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute).

In 1986 he was among the scientists who launched the Human Genome Project.

From 1993 to 1997 he moved back to Italy, where he was president of the Institute of Biomedical Technologies at C.N.R. (National Council of Research) in Milan.

He also retained his position on the faculty of Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

Dulbecco was actively involved in research into identification and characterization of mammary gland cancer stem cells until December 2011.

His research using a stem cell model system suggested that a single malignant cell with stem cell properties may be sufficient to induce cancer in mice and can generate distinct populations of tumour-initiating cells also with cancer stem cell properties.

Dulbecco’s examinations into the origin of mammary gland cancer stem cells in solid tumours were a continuation of his early investigations of cancer being a disease of acquired mutations.

He was a fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California (1963–72), and returned there in 1977 as a distinguished research professor after serving for five years as a director of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London.

During his second tenure at the Salk Institute, he served also on the faculty of the medical school of the University of California, San Diego (1977–81).

He served first as temporary and then as full president of the Salk Institute from 1988 to 1992.

Dulbecco was asked to work on the Italian Genome Project by the Italian National Research Council before returning to the Salk Institute in the late 1990s.

Dulbecco, with Marguerite Vogt, pioneered the growing of animal viruses in culture in the 1950s and investigated how certain viruses gain control of the cells they infect.

They showed that polyomavirus, which produces tumours in mice, inserts its DNA into the DNA of the host cell.

The cell then undergoes transformation (a term used in this restricted sense by Dulbecco) into a cancer cell, reproducing the viral DNA along with its own and producing more cancer cells.

In 1975, Dulbecco shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Howard M. Temin and David Baltimore, for their work in cancer cell transformation.

Dulbecco attributed much of his success to the work he did with colleagues such as Giuseppe Levi, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Herman Muller, Max Delbrück and Marguerite Vogt.

In his Nobel Prize address, Dulbecco called for increased restrictions on tobacco use and urged governments to make greater efforts to limit the introduction of dangerous chemicals into the environment.