Meet Dr. Vittorio Gallo: A Scientific Leader Who Will Never Hang Up His Lab Coat
January 4, 2024
Author: Colleen Steelquist (she/her)
In his native language, Dr. Vittorio Gallo (he/him) is a nuovo arrivato — a newcomer — in a brand-new role as senior vice president and chief scientific officer (CSO) at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, but he brings years of experience both as a scientist and as a leader.
Vittorio hails from Washington, D.C., where he worked for 22 years as a developmental neuroscientist and neuroscience leader, and most recently served as both interim chief academic officer for Children’s National Hospital and interim director of Children’s National Research Institute.
Born and raised in Italy, he earned his doctorate in biochemistry and neurobiology from the University of Rome. He did postdoctoral work in London and at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Vittorio forms a collaborative leadership triad with Dr. Eric Tham, senior vice president and chief research operations officer, and Dr. Leslie Walker-Harding, senior vice president, chief academic officer and chair of Pediatrics, University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine. Vittorio works with Eric on day-to-day support of Seattle Children’s Research Division, which includes both the research institute and Seattle Children’s Therapeutics. He sets the scientific vision with Leslie while Eric leads the administrative, operations and finance efforts, and Leslie guides the faculty and UW academic affairs.
Learn more about Vittorio, why he’ll never hang up his lab coat, and how he plans to keep Children’s at the forefront of pediatric cures and scientific progress.
What are your priorities in your first year?
I am committed to promoting a collaborative environment that encourages open dialogue, knowledge sharing and the pursuit of groundbreaking research. One of the main reasons I came here is the research excellence of the institute. I want to spend time getting to know all our investigators, their research programs and what drives them to pursue research in a pediatric setting.
I also want to be the best advocate for research and for all scientists, focusing on understanding the challenges our investigators and research leaders face so we can work together to address them. Finally, I want to establish my own research program.
Tell us about your research.
My highly translational research focuses on neonatal brain injury and its consequences on two main brain regions: the white matter (which transmits information to the nervous system) and the cerebellum (which controls voluntary muscle movements, posture, balance and equilibrium, and plays a role in thought, emotions and social behavior).
These regions play important and different roles in the brain and in behavior, as well as in cognition. They develop significantly after birth, so any injuries that occur around birth have an impact downstream on development and function.
My lab is being reconstituted in the Center for Integrative Brain Research. I’m taking this as an opportunity to not only continue my current lines of research but also to establish new collaborations with other researchers here and explore new research directions. As a mentor, I want to offer opportunities in my lab for clinicians to do research linked to their clinical programs.
It's important for me to be an active investigator because I want my fellow researchers to see that I face the same challenges so they can relate to me as both a CSO and a colleague.
How will you steer the research institute’s scientific direction?
My role is to understand and help define where pediatric research will be in the next decade and make sure the institute is uniquely positioned to continue to be one of the top pediatric academic research centers.
One big question is what will ultimately differentiate us from other pediatric research institutes nationally and internationally. We don't want to be like everybody else. This is important not only in terms of our identity and cohesiveness, but also because it provides opportunities for funding, recruiting new researchers and developing new therapies.
Research leadership has been strategically planning and building a vision for the research institute well before I came to Seattle. I want to be very respectful of what has been created and ensure this great work continues to sustain and support our research teams and provide the best infrastructure for their research. I want to help with growth by building on our strengths and defining new research directions.
One of the main goals we all share is to make sure we continue to integrate research with clinical care across the organization, providing the best pediatric care to the children and families we serve. We will work together to push forward pediatric research to make new discoveries and provide new therapeutic interventions.
What role do community pediatricians play in a leading research institute?
Overall, community pediatricians bring their clinical expertise, patient access, and practical insights to our research institute. They are our direct interface with the communities we serve. Community pediatricians play an important role in facilitating the translation of research into clinical practice and improving pediatric healthcare. They also play a crucial role in bringing current challenges in pediatric healthcare to the attention of researchers “in real time.”
Community pediatricians can play several important roles in a research institute, including:
1. Clinical expertise: Community pediatricians have extensive clinical experience and expertise in managing various pediatric conditions. They can provide valuable insights and guidance to researchers regarding the practical aspects of conducting research in a real-world clinical setting.
2. Participant recruitment: Community pediatricians can help in recruiting patients for research studies. They have access to a diverse patient population and can identify eligible participants who may be interested in participating in research studies.
3. Data collection: Community pediatricians can collect data from their patients as part of research studies. They can administer questionnaires, perform physical examinations, and collect samples for laboratory analysis, contributing to the overall data collection process.
4. Collaboration: Community pediatricians can collaborate with researchers to design and implement research studies. They can provide input on study protocols, help develop research questions, and contribute to the interpretation of study findings.
5. Dissemination of research findings: Community pediatricians can play a crucial role in disseminating research findings to the wider medical community. They can present research findings at conferences, publish papers in medical journals, and share knowledge with their peers, thereby contributing to the translation of research into clinical practice.
6. Quality improvement: Community pediatricians can use research findings to improve the quality of care they provide to their patients. By implementing evidence-based practices and guidelines derived from research, they can enhance patient outcomes and optimize healthcare delivery.
Who has inspired you?
My mother was truly inspirational. She was a professor, an art historian and a great mentor. Our house was always full of her students. For an Italian woman of that generation, it was uncommon to have that kind of position and to want to have a career. She was a role model who accomplished a lot by being very intentional and by multitasking.
I also had two powerful research mentors and role models early in my career: Prof. Giulio Levi and Prof. Rita Levi-Montalcini. Rita won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1986. They inspired my interest in developmental biology and developmental neuroscience.
As a new Seattleite, what’s on your to-do list?
I am excited to explore the natural beauty of Seattle and all the surrounding areas. My partner and I just settled on Capitol Hill, so I'm looking forward to exploring our neighborhood and other areas of this beautiful city — and without humidity, another aspect I like about Seattle after more than 30 years in D.C.
I also want to get to know more about the art world in Seattle. We enjoy art, museums and art galleries, and I was on the board for The Phillips Collection (an art museum in D.C.). I would like to play a role locally of bringing in more young artists and expanding the diversity of voices and artistic contributions. I think the Seattle Art Museum does a fantastic job in that area. It's important to open the doors of museums and bring art to a wide audience by removing barriers to accessibility. That was something my mother was very passionate about and is a legacy I carry within myself.
What do you do for fun?
I enjoy reading essays and novels, as well as books related to neuroscience and psychology, in Italian, English and Spanish. Reading in Spanish helps sustain my language skills.
I like listening to music, mainly jazz, soul, classical and electronic music. I also listen to opera because I grew up with it; my grandmother was a big opera fan and, of course, living in Italy it's a stereotype, but, you know, sometimes stereotypes are based on some truth! I enjoy live performances of music, theater and dance.