holding science things

Title:Emeritus professor supports GUMC faculty research

Author: Lauren M. Poteat
Date Published: January 26, 2024

Cited as a “giant” in allergy immunology by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Joseph A. Bellanti—emeritus professor of pediatrics and microbiology-immunology, founder and director of the International Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Immunology at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC), and author of a widely acclaimed textbook in immunology—celebrates 60 years of research and education with two gifts to Georgetown.

One gift will support GUMC’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology. The second will provide additional start-up funding to support the Cluster Hire initiative, a new faculty recruitment strategy in which clusters of faculty are recruited around a single health problem spanning from the laboratory to the clinic.

“I remain deeply grateful for Dr. Bellanti’s commitment to strengthening our work in microbiology and immunology at Georgetown,” says Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia. “I cannot thank him enough for his steadfast engagement and all he has done over the years to advance our academic mission, especially as a professor emeritus.”

“Georgetown, my academic home for 60 years, has provided me academic growth and spiritual support, in addition to the friendship of postdoctoral fellows and colleagues. This gift is the fulfillment of my aspiration to leave a legacy here at Georgetown University.”

—Joseph A. Bellanti

Six decades of immunology research

In 1963, while completing his postdoctoral studies as a research virologist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Bellanti began his career at Georgetown University as an assistant professor of pediatrics and microbiology, specializing in immunology, with the hope of advancing microbiological research, enhancing clinical application, and fostering student education.

Joe Bellanti

Motivated by the need for an enhanced immunology research center, he established the International Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Immunology in 1975, highlighting the word “interdisciplinary” because “no one group has the answers to immunology.”

Thanks to Bellanti’s leadership, the ICISI has trained over 300 postdoctoral candidates in basic and clinical immunology, received numerous awards, and won several federal and private research grants, including a National Institute of Health (NIH)-supported postdoctoral training program.

In 1999 Bellanti retired from GUMC, but his passion for the university, research, and teaching compelled him to remain active as professor emeritus of pediatrics and microbiology-immunology, where he continues to be enthusiastically involved in research and teaching, much to the admiration of former student Stefano Luccioli (M’95), allergist and immunologist with MedStar Health.

“At Georgetown, and throughout my career, Bellanti has been my professor and mentor in allergy and immunology,” says Luccioli. “I now have the extreme pleasure to call him a colleague and friend. His 60-year commitment to learning, teaching, and helping others appreciate science and immunology is truly commendable.”

“Bellanti is a revered educator in the field of clinical immunology; his approach has helped countless physicians improve their understanding of this complex subject of central importance to the patients we serve,” says Kathleen May, immediate-past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). “I appreciate his dedication and service to the ACAAI, both as a past president and recent historian.”

Bellanti’s investigative efforts have included antimicrobial research, evaluation of new vaccine strategies, and developmental immunology research around the characterization of the IgM response of the newborn. His team identified the antiviral role of secretory IgA in respiratory secretions and cellular immune responses to viral infections following immunization or natural infections.

He and his basic science colleagues are currently actively involved in studies of methylated DNA in regulation of T-regulatory cell activity as it relates to disorders of the immune system, including allergic diseases, autoimmune diseases, and most recently, COVID-19. In 2023, Bellanti presented his research on long COVID to the National Institutes of Health.

Guided by Jesuit principles

A past president to organizations including ACAAI, American Board of Allergy and Immunology, Society for Pediatric Research, and the American Association of Certified Allergists, Bellanti’s career has been guided by Georgetown’s Jesuit principles.

“Georgetown, my academic home for 60 years, has provided me academic growth and spiritual support, in addition to the friendship of postdoctoral fellows and colleagues,” says Bellanti. “This gift is the fulfillment of my aspiration to leave a legacy here at Georgetown University.

“All of this would not have been possible without the support given by my wife, Jacqueline, and my entire family,” continues Bellanti, who is the father to three Hoyas and the grandparent to one. “I am largely guided by our Jesuit principles that embody care of the whole self and this call to help others. Within the immunology center I have experienced a community of diversity, equity, and inclusion, traits that are a hallmark of Georgetown University.”

During six decades at Georgetown, Bellanti has received many honors, including the Founder’s Day Award of Georgetown University School of Medicine, the prestigious E. Mead Johnson Award for research in pediatrics, and the American College of Allergists Humanitarian Award. He also received honoris causa degrees from the University of Palermo in Italy, the CEA Universidad San Pablo in Spain, and Georgetown University.

Gratitude and commitment

Bellanti’s non-profit foundation, I Care Inc., has worked to support the ICISI since 1995. Bellanti recently made two separate gifts to GUMC through the foundation to express gratitude for 60 years of research and education at Georgetown.

A $205,000 gift will support the GUMC Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and an additional $150,000 gift will support GUMC’s Cluster Hire initiative. Bellanti’s donation of $355,000 will be matched with an equal investment by Georgetown.

Elliott Crooke, vice president for faculty and academic affairs and professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular & Cellular Biology, says that these two gifts are a testament to Bellanti’s commitment.

“One of the most remarkable aspects of Bellanti’s biomedical research over the years is not only the depth of his contributions, but also the breadth of his studies,” shares Crooke. “We are so grateful for these gifts that will help others follow in his footsteps.”

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