Pietro De Camilli Selected for 2021 E.B. Wilson Medal

Pietro De Camilli, professor of Neuroscience and Cell Biology at Yale University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, has been chosen by ASCB to receive the 2021 E.B. Wilson Medal. De Camilli is also the director of the Kavli Institute of Neuroscience at the Yale University School of Medicine.

The E.B. Wilson Medal is presented to distinguished researchers for their far-reaching contributions to cell biology over a lifetime in science. De Camilli has been a longtime member of ASCB, is a former president, and was inducted as an ASCB Fellow in 2017.

A native of Italy, De Camilli says his love for science stems from his admiration of the natural world.

“I love everything that has to do with nature,” he says. “I like gardening, hiking in the Connecticut woods and, when I have opportunity, in the Italian Alps. My love for science is the continuation of my love for nature. The excitement of uncovering the inner works of nature is what drives my professional work.”

His professional work seeks to elucidate the “fundamental mechanisms underlying the dynamics and traffic of intracellular membranes, with emphasis on the role of these processes in the support of neurotransmission,” he said. “I am also interested in understanding how genetic perturbations of these mechanisms result in neurodegenerative diseases, Parkinson’s disease in particular.”

De Camilli began his career journey not with scientific training but with a medical degree. He earned his MD from the University of Milan. Later he became a postdoctoral fellow with Paul Greengard in the Department of Pharmacology at Yale, and subsequently an assistant professor in the Yale Section of Cell Biology.

Following a brief return to Milan, he moved back to Yale in 1988, where he has remained ever since, also serving in leadership positions including chair of the Department of Cell Biology from 1997 to 2000, chair of the Department of Neuroscience from 2015 to 2021, founding director of the Yale Program in Cellular Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration, and Repair since 2005, and director of the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience since 2015. He became an investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1992 and in 2017 he served as ASCB president.

De Camilli’s approach to lab leadership is grounded in inclusivity.

“My aim is having a lab where everyone’s effort is valued and appreciated,” he said. “Likewise, in my academic leadership roles, I have attempted to be fair and to foster a sense of community. Over the years I have increasingly appreciated how diversity in the work environment not only enriches everyone in both personal and professional ways but also promotes better science.”

As part of receiving the E.B. Wilson Medal, De Camilli will deliver a lecture. He said he plans to present the talk “A Scientific Journey at the Interface of Cell Biology and Neuroscience: From Membrane Traffic to Neurodegenerative Diseases” during Cell Bio Virtual 2021.

“I feel very honored to receive this recognition by a scientific society whose scope and values have shaped my professional career,” De Camilli wrote to ASCB. “It is truly a special honor for me to follow in the footstep of the founding fathers of cell biology, including George Palade, who launched my independent career by recruiting me as assistant professor to Yale Cell Biology.”

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Mary Spiro is ASCB's Science Writer and Social Media Manager.