Exploring the inner world of neurons Ernst Jung Gold Medal for Medicine 2019 goes to Professor Pietro De Camilli, M.D.

Hamburg, 23 May 2019. The Jung Foundation for Science and Research is awarding Professor Pietro De Camilli, M.D. the 2019 Ernst Jung Gold Medal for Medicine. The Italian-born neuroscientist from Yale University is receiving the medal for his life’s work on the molecular basis of intracellular membrane dynamics. The award comes with a grant of 30,000 euros, which De Camilli can give to a young scientist of his choice.


Pietro De Camilli is the John Klingenstein Professor of Neuroscience, Professor of Cell Biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at the School of Medicine and Kavli Institute for Neuroscience of Yale University in New Haven, USA. Throughout his career, he has been working on molecular mechanisms underlying the traffic of intracellular membranes responsible for secretion and for the internalization of material from the extracellular world. He was particularly interested in how these fundamental properties have been adapted in neurons to support the special and unique functions of the nervous system. Results of his studies had broad implications in both cell biology and basic neuroscience and produced a number of key medical insights.


Born and raised in Italy, he studied medicine at the University of Milan and carried our postdoctoral studies with Paul Greengard at Yale.  Early in his career, he contributed to the molecular characterization of synaptic vesicles, the specialized vesicles that store and secrete neurotransmitters at neuronal synapses.  During this time he discovered that a neurotransmitter metabolizing enzyme, glutamate decarboxylase, is an autoantigen both in a severe neurological condition and in diabetes mellitus. Subsequently, De Camilli devoted himself to study mechanisms through which membranes of synaptic vesicles are reused after each cycle of secretion. He elucidated crucial steps of such recycling, including the occurrence of metabolic changes of lipid components of these membranes. Prompted by these findings, recently he became interested the control of membrane lipid homeostasis and advanced knowledge about mechanisms of lipid transport between membranes.


“I firmly believe that basic research driven by curiosity is key to major medical advances and is an important complement to disease-oriented studies. It is absolutely essential that funding institutions focused on the cure of diseases also support basic science,” explains Pietro De Camilli. This is also the purpose of the Jung Foundation for Science and Research. With its three annual awards, it honours projects of basic and advanced research with particular clinical relevance and thus promotes the development of new treatments. De Camilli also believes that the investigation of diseases helps to advance the fundamental understanding of biology. “I recognise a strong, mutual feedback relationship between basic research and applied medical research.”


De Camilli is married and has three children. It was the love of nature and the desire to understand it that motivated him to study biology and medicine. Today, he still enjoys his free time gardening and spending time on the coast by his home in Connecticut and hiking in the Alps of his Italian homeland during the summer.