To the Editor:
This communication celebrates the life of Giorgio Olivetti, an outstanding researcher in the field of cardiovascular pathology. He died, together with his collaborator Dr Elena Cigola, in a car accident on the way home after a business meeting.
Giorgio Olivetti graduated from the University of Parma in 1967 and received the Italian Equivalent of Boards in Pathology, Anatomy, and Clinical Pathology at the same University in 1969. In Parma, he continued his academic career as an Assistant (1969 to 1986), Associate (1986 to 1994), and Full Professor of Pathology (1994 to 2001) and as Chairman of the Department of Pathology (2000 to 2001). As a visiting or Adjunct Professor, he worked in Detroit, Michigan, and Valhalla, NY, for various periods between 1979 and 1994 in collaboration with his friend and colleague Professor Piero Anversa.
Giorgio Olivetti dedicated his life to studying the cellular mechanisms implicated in ventricular remodeling. He discovered that the normal male heart undergoes a loss of nearly 1 g per year, corresponding to ≈64 million cells. He also recognized that sex differences may play a significant role in the detrimental effects of senescence, inasmuch as aging-induced cell loss is not observed in women. One of Olivetti’s major contributions was the recognition of mechanisms implicated in the accelerated myocyte loss typical of the transition from compensated pressure or volume overload hypertrophy to decompensated ventricular dilatation. He carefully analyzed the pattern of cellular loss in failing myocardium and recognized that cell death is not only necrotic in nature but is also mediated by apoptosis, a suicide program that is triggered in the stressed myocardium independently of the cause of the overload. In the end-stage human failing heart, myocyte apoptosis was increased 232-fold, despite a near doubling of bcl-2, a proto-oncogene that protects cells against apoptosis. These results were attributed in part to severe atherosclerosis of the major coronary arteries, which was in agreement with experimental data on the deleterious effects of ischemia and anoxia on myocyte survival.
A fundamental contribution of Olivetti’s work consisted in the characterization of structural changes occurring in hypertensive or ischemic cardiomyopathies. Specifically, he found that rarefaction in myocardial capillarity is peculiar to the hypertensive heart, leaving surviving myocardium more susceptible to ischemia. The hypothesis was then advanced that angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors could protect against hypertension-induced myocardial damage by promoting angiogenesis.
It was a great privilege to collaborate with Dr Olivetti and his team in the characterization of the cardiovascular phenotype of a knockout mouse model lacking the kinin B2 receptor and in various other ongoing projects. B2 knockouts develop a form of dilated cardiomyopathy with aging that is similar to that found in patients with severe hypertensive ventricular remodeling. Furthermore, the role of angiotensin II as a determinant of cardiac dysfunction and myocardial damage was documented in this model. This was an exciting collaboration, because Dr Olivetti’s expertise and caution allowed us to be extremely confident about new achievements, and his genuine enthusiasm was a driving force to explore the intrinsic mechanisms of cardiac diseases.
It would require more time and space to provide a complete overview of Dr Olivetti’s scientific contributions. I must, however, describe some significant traits of his unique personality. Despite serious health problems, he continued working very hard to update his laboratory with new technologies and to produce a group of excellent investigators, among whom Elena Cigola emerged as having uncommon abilities. Dr Olivetti’s warm attitude with young colleagues was returned with admiration and love. In the peculiar world of Italian Academia, Dr Olivetti was a gentleman capable of attracting respect and attention because of his genuine love for science. Until the end, his life was committed to this aim.
Personally, I will miss Dr Olivetti and Dr Cigola and their continuous reinforcement, critical input, and sympathy. Their example is a remarkable model for scientists in the cardiovascular field.
- Copyright © 2001 by American Heart Association