Dr. Alberto Pugliese Celebrated as Inaugural Holder of the Dodson Chair in Diabetes Research

After watching her two brothers struggle with the devastating effects of diabetes, and after losing part of her own lung to cancer, Eugenia J. Dodson became determined to make a difference in the fight against both diseases. To that end, she made a multimillion-dollar donation to support cancer and diabetes research.

On October 13, a major part of her commitment was realized when Alberto Pugliese, M.D., a world-renowned researcher in diabetes and immunogenetics at the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, was presented with the J. Enloe and Eugenia J. Dodson Chair in Diabetes Research. Pugliese, professor of medicine, and microbiology and immunology, and Deputy Director for Immune Tolerance Research at the DRI, was installed as the first holder of the chair before University of Miami and Miller School leadership, family and friends.

Pugliese thanked his wife, Clara, his daughter, Valentina, and his mother, Rita, who were in attendance, and also dedicated the tribute to his late father. He also thanked the many patients and colleagues he has worked with since arriving at the DRI in 1994.

“Helping to cure and prevent type 1 diabetes through research has always been my career goal,” Pugliese said. “I have been learning from all of you. It’s been a remarkable journey in knowledge, and it’s helping us get closer to the solution.”

The Diabetes Research Institute Foundation (DRIF) endowed the chair as the result of a $35.6 million gift from the estate of the late Mrs. Dodson, of Coral Gables, who designated two-thirds of the funding to the DRIF, and one-third to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

In addition to the chair, the DRIF created the J. Enloe and Eugenia J. Dodson Diabetes Center for Translational Research at the DRI to help fund scientific initiatives in cutting-edge areas, including immune tolerance, which is Pugliese’s area of specialty.

“To be awarded an endowed chair is a very high honor, and we could not be more pleased that it’s being bestowed upon Dr. Alberto Pugliese,” said Joshua W. Rednik, President and Chief Executive Officer of the DRIF, a non-profit organization whose sole mission is to provide funding to the Diabetes Research Institute, and the University of Miami’s largest overall donor. “It’s clear that Dr. Pugliese has the respect and admiration of his peers, within the DRI, and beyond its borders.”

Mrs. Dodson, who died just weeks shy of her 101st birthday, wanted the funding to be used for cure-focused research in the two diseases that dramatically impacted her family.

She amassed her wealth by nurturing a modest legacy left to her by her late husband, Joseph Enloe Dodson, more than a half-century earlier.

According to Donald E. Kubit of Fowler White Burnett P.A., who served as her attorney and co-trustee of her revocable trust and was instrumental in facilitating the gifts to DRIF and Sylvester, “Gene,” as she was known, lived a modest lifestyle because she had a higher purpose.

“Gene lived a truly selfless life so she could fulfill her philanthropic goals,” Kubit said at the time the donation was given. “Eugenia Dodson’s final estate plan was consistent with her profound desire to fund research to find a cure for diabetes and cancer.”

“Few stories are more inspiring than that of Mrs. Dodson,” said University of Miami President Julio Frenk. “Her extraordinary support of the Diabetes Research Institute and Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center has had a critical impact in cure-focused research into these debilitating diseases. Her legacy is going to help us translate discoveries into solutions and medical cures, and we are very grateful for that.”

Pugliese is dedicated to advancing type 1 diabetes research through scientific excellence, open collaboration, and the training of new investigators. For the last 25 years, he has studied type 1 diabetes from the preclinical period to the clinical diagnosis and afterwards, in the setting of transplantation. His research has provided seminal contributions in type 1 diabetes genetics, immunology, pathology, and clinical trials.

Since 2001, Pugliese has been a steering committee member of the Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet, a National Institutes of Health-funded clinical trial network, for which he has chaired several committees and initiatives. He is also Executive Co-Director of the JDRF Network for Pancreatic Organ Donors (nPOD), along with Mark Atkinson, Ph.D., American Diabetes Association Eminent Scholar for Diabetes Research and professor of pathology and pediatrics at the University of Florida.

Laurence B. Gardner, M.D., Interim Dean of the Miller School of Medicine, recalled first appointing Pugliese to the faculty 22 years ago. He heralded Pugliese’s many significant findings that have led to improved understanding of genetic and cellular mechanisms that regulate immunological self-tolerance, specifically to molecules targeted in diabetes.

“It is an enormous recognition for an investigator to receive a chair,” said Gardner. ”It provides support and continuing resources to innovate in ways that really do make a difference in science that is translational to patient care. It is a well-deserved honor for Dr. Pugliese.”

The endowed chair will help support Pugliese and his research in the area of immune tolerance, which was spotlighted during the inaugural Lindsey Inserra-Hughes Immune Tolerance Seminar Series at the Miller School of Medicine. Several leaders in the field were in attendance, including Atkinson, Paul Bollyky, M.D., Ph.D., of Stanford University, Helena Reijonen, Ph.D., and Bart Roep, M.D., Ph.D., of City of Hope in Los Angeles, and Camillo Ricordi, M.D., Jay S. Skyler, M.D., and Thomas Malek, Ph.D., of the DRI.

“Alberto Pugliese is a connector,” said Ricordi, Director of the Diabetes Research Institute, Stacy Joy Goodman Professor of Surgery, Distinguished Professor of Medicine, and professor of biomedical engineering, microbiology, and immunology. “He’s always putting patients and a cure at the center of all decision-making. Alberto is a remarkable individual.”

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