Competition: Latin America & Caribbean
Education: Universidad de Buenos Aires; CONICET
Born in 1963 in Buenos Aires, Fernando Pitossi received a degree in biochemistry from the University of Buenos Aires in 1988. As a student of physiology under the supervision of Dr. Fernandez Willamil, he developed a passion for studying complex systems. One week after graduating, he travelled to Switzerland to study molecular biology at the Friedrich-Miescher Institute in Basel. There, under the supervision of Dr. Brian Hemmings, he helped in the discovery and sequencing of a gene now known as Akt, a key molecule in cellular growth. He started his Ph.D. in molecular virology in Zurich but finished it at the University of Freiburg, Germany, after the lab supervised by Peter Staeheli moved there.
While a doctoral student, he unraveled the mechanism of action of Mx, an interferon induced-protein that blocks the intracellular replication of the influenza virus. This discovery was applauded by the World Health Organization as a possible target against influenza infections. As a post-doc, he worked for four years (1993-97) at the Institute of Physiology, Marburg, Germany, under the supervision of Dr. Hugo Besedovsky. There he studied the functional role of cytokines in the brain, a coming-back to physiology but using molecular biology techniques, including the generation of viral vectors for gene transfer. The functional interactions between the immune and nervous systems using molecular biology techniques will be his main line of research in the future.
During these last years he collaborated closely with Dr. Wolfgang Oertel at the Neurology Clinic in Marburg, Daniel Anthony and Hugh Perry in the United Kingdom, and was a visiting scientist in laboratories in Paris, Eugene, Oregon, and Oxford. During his last period in Europe he showed that cytokines in the blood could trigger the expression of cytokines in the brain and that cytokines are involved in pure neural processes.
Fernando Pitossi returned to the Leloir Foundation in Argentina in 1997. He was appointed a group leader at that Institution in 2000. Since then, he has been heading a group that tries to understand the functional properties of immune signals on neuronal demise, protection, and regeneration via adult neural stem cells. Specifically, his group has shown how immune signals can exacerbate Parkinson’s disease, trigger demyelination, and increase the differentiation of adult neural stem cells to neurons. He had an early interest in stem cell research, stimulated by a visit to Dr. Fred Gage’s laboratory at the Salk Institute, and was the coordinator of the first cluster on stem cell research in Argentina.
Mr. Pitossi has presented his work at more than sixty international congresses, and has had more than thirty publications in top international peer-reviewed journals. In addition to his positions as group leader and member of the Administrative Council of the Leloir Foundation, he is a professor at the Unviersity of Buenos Aires, an independent researcher with CONICET, and has served as a jurist at CONICET and the YPF Foundation. He is a member of the Consulting Committee on Gene Therapy Trials of ANMAT (the Argentinean equivalent of the U.S. FDA) as well as of the International Cytokine Society, European Cytokine Society, International Society for Interferon and Cytokine Research, and the Society of Neuroscience; he is a member of the board of directors of the Argentinean Society for Neurochemistry. Fernando Pitossi has also served as a reviewer for several important journals: Neurobiology of Disease, European Journal of Neuroscience, Gila, and the Journal of Neuropharmacology, and he is a grant reviewer of the Irish Medical Council. He has received grants from the Wellcome Trust, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Pfizer Inc., and the Volkswagen Foundation, among other institutions.