In Memoriam| Volume 52, ISSUE 11, P1377-1378, November 2020

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In memory of Vittorio Ricci, scientist and friend

Published:September 07, 2020DOI:
      Suddenly and unexpectedly, my friend Vittorio Ricci, MD, PhD passed away on May 5, 2020, at the age of 58. This came to me as a devastating news through an e-mail message by his long-lasting collaborator and friend Patrizia Sommi.
      Vittorio was Full Professor of Human Physiology at the Department of Molecular Medicine-Human Physiology at the Medical School of the University of Pavia. While not being a clinician or a gastroenterologist, Vittorio was an excellent scientist and, as a matter of fact, he was very close to our discipline. In fact, his field of interest was the study of the mechanisms of Helicobacter pylori-induced gastric mucosa damage with a particular regard to the cross-talk between the bacterium and gastric epithelial cells. Our professional lives came across when in 1988, back from a 3 year period spent in Dr Ivey's laboratory in Long Beach California, I was contacted by Prof Ventura, at the time Director of Human Physiology in Pavia, who told me that a young researcher of his, i.e. Vittorio, was interested in my tissue culture model of gastric epithelial cells in vitro in order to study the direct effects of Helicobacter pylori on gastric epithelial cells. After a short phone conversation, Vittorio arranged for me a visit to the University of Pavia where I had the honor of giving a lecture on “gastric cytoprotection” and showed him the tissue culture models I was working with. From that point on, not only a proficient scientific collaboration which fostered each other's academic career but also a profound friendship started. Vittorio published a number of studies showing for the first time the effects of Helicobacter pylori in gastric epithelial cells (most of the in vitro work at that time had been done using HeLa cells). In particular, in collaboration with our group, Vittorio demonstrated that Helicobacter pylori inhibited the main mechanisms (i.e. cell migration and proliferation) underlying the recovery of injured gastric epithelium in vitro. Then, our scientific interest moved into the understanding of the mechanisms underlying the interaction between Helicobacter pylori and gastric epithelial cells which might contribute to gastric carcinogenesis in humans. Together with Vittorio and Raffaele Zarrilli of the Federico II University in Naples and in collaboration with Martin Blaser and Robert Coffey of the Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, we first showed that Helicobacter pylori up-regulated EGF-related growth factors expression, activating EGF receptor in gastric epithelial cells and in the gastric mucosa in humans. Also, in a highly cited article in collaboration with Vittorio we demonstrated that Helicobacter pylori increased the expression of cyclooxygenase 2 in gastric epithelial cells both at the mRNA and protein level. Finally, we showed that Helicobacter pylori was able to up-regulate the expression of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor in gastric epithelial cells
      After meeting Professor Patrice Boquet at a Digestive Disease Week held in Washington DC in 1997, Vittorio applied for and obtained an international scholarship to spend a year as a visiting Professor in Professor Boquet's laboratory in Nice, France working on the mechanisms by which the bacterium VacA toxin was endocytosed into epithelial cells targeting the mitochondria and inducing cell death. The collaboration with Professor Boquet continued also after Vittorio's leaving Nice and led to the discovery of other important findings which helped deciphering the virulence bacterial strategy to injure gastric epithelium. In particular Vittorio's studies highlighted the intracellular trafficking of Helicobacter pylori vacuolating cytotoxin (VacA) and contributed to the understanding of the mechanisms by which T and B lymphocytes become sensitive to and killed by VacA.
      Aside from his brilliant activity as a scientist I like to remember Vittorio as a very good friend of mine. He was shy but at the same time brilliant and determined to achieve his goals. He had a good sense of humor and apart from his work, he liked to travel and to know new places. We always met every year in occasion of the Digestive Disease Week in the US, and I remember visiting with him the Smithsonian Museum in Washington,DC, the office of and houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago and so many other places. Vittorio has been in Naples invited by my University to give scientific lectures and we always found the time to talk about our personal lives in front of a good pizza and glass of beer, to visit the historical sites of Naples (he just loved Cappella Sansevero and the marmoreal Veiled Christ), and to buy ties at his favorite tie shop in the city.
      Vittorio loved his family. He was married to Enrica and they have a son, Piero, who works as an economist in England and a young daughter, Alessandra, who is a brilliant sixth year medical student at the University of Pavia. My deep feelings go to his family.
      I am sure they miss Vittorio very much as we and all of his friends certainly do.
      Ciao Vittorio, RIP.

      Declaration of Competing Interests

      I hereby declare no conflict of interest
      Prof Marco Romano