Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Requiescat in pace: Dr. Luigi Giacometti

Dr. Luigi Giacometti

NIH Scientist and Scholar

Dr. Luigi Giacometti, 85, who retired as chief of the Center for Scientific Review at the National Institute of Health after serving at NIH for 28 years, died at Potomac Manor Care on October 9, 2011 of natural causes.

A resident of Rockville, Maryland for over thirty years, Dr. Giacometti was born and raised in the small village of Gubbio, in Umbria, Italy, where as a young boy during World War II, he was an eyewitness to Hitler’s visit to Rome in May of 1938. Later, once the war began, he joined his older brother and became a member of the “Partisan Resistance”, the underground Italian resistance movement, working with the Allies to fight the Nazi occupation. While serving as a guerilla fighter in the Apennine Mountains, he and a group of other partisans were captured by Nazi soldiers. Dr. Giacometti escaped execution when a local priest convinced the Nazis to release the young teenager. After his release, Dr. Giacometti continued to serve as a Partisan Resistance fighter, ferrying critical messages between the Partisan Resistance forces and the British Army until the war ended.

After the war, Dr. Giacometti completed his studies, received a degree in biology, and married his wife, Filippina Mannucci. In January of 1956, when Filippina was 8 months pregnant, Dr. Giacometti and Filippina emigrated to the United States on the Italian liner the Andrea Doria, and while crossing the Atlantic Ocean their first daughter, Andrea, was born on board the ship.

On arriving in the United States, Dr. Giacometti became the chief of the perinatal laboratory at Providence Lying-In Hospital in Rhode Island. Soon thereafter he became a pre-doctoral fellow at Providence Hospital, enrolled in the graduate program at Brown University, and earned his M.Sci. and Ph.D. in biology in 1964. Dr. Giacometti then spent 5 years as a scientist at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center in Beverton. His groundbreaking research focused on the structure and function of skin in humans and primates, and he was noted for his accomplishments in the field of Langerhans cells in human skin, previously thought to be lifeless until Dr. Giacometti demonstrated they were living cells. He also conducted innovative and unique research on Egyptian mummies, identifying for the first time remnants of red blood cells in ancient tissue samples, and pioneering methods for retrieving cells from mummies.

In 1969 Dr. Giacometti became associate professor of dermatology at the University of Oregon Medical School and scientific director of the Oregon Zoology Research Center. In addition to his noted skin research he coordinated research devoted to developing animal models for human diseases and for conserving wildlife species. From 1968 until 1972 he also served as honorary Italian vice-counsel for the government of Italy in Portland, Oregon.

Dr. Giacometti moved to Rockville in 1972 after accepting a grant from NIH to study diseases related to the human eye. From 1973 to 1977, he served as director of the Extramural Corneal Disease and Cataract Program at the National Eye Institute. In 1977 he became chief of the visual sciences study session at the Division of Research Grants, and then ultimately became chief of the Center for Scientific Review.

Dr. Giacometti was an accomplished author, writing several books and articles on various topics from religion and politics to art and science, including a treatise on Jesus Christ “Who Was Jesus of Nazareth”. He spoke fluent Italian and English, taught courses in the Italian language and on Italian art. He was a member of Parliamo Italiano, an Italian language club based in Potomac, Maryland.

Beloved husband of Filippina Mannucci, he is survived by two daughters, Andrea R. Giacometti, MD, of Arlington, Virginia, and Elena F. Kennedy, Esq. of Potomac, Maryland; two grandchildren Brian and Christina Kennedy; and many devoted friends and former colleagues.

Family and friends will be received at PUMPHREY’S BETHESDA-CHEVY CHASE FUNERAL HOME, 7557 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20814 on Thursday, October 13, 2011 from 3-5PM and 7-9PM. Mass of Christian burial will be offered at St. Raphael’s Catholic Church, 1592 Kimblewick Road (Falls and Dunster Roads) Potomac, MD20854 on Friday, October 14 at 10AM. Interment Gate of HeavenCemetery following Mass. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in his honor to Potomac Manor Care, 10714 Potomac Tennis Lane, Potomac, MD 20854 Attn: Kara Noble. Please view and sign the family guestbook at www.pumphreyfuneralhome.com. In addition, there will be a reception - tentatively planned to be held in Bethesda - after the burial service, details of which will be provided at the burial service.

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