Giulio Cossu#

Short laudatio by Maurizio Brunori#

Giulio Cossu is internationally recognized for his pioneering work in the stem cell field, which has acquired enormous importance and interest in recent years. His own work was focussed on muscle differentiation, with the recent remarkable discovery that muscle progenitor cells originate in the bone marrow. He developed the first cell therapy protocol for muscular dystrophy with stem cells.

Giulio Cossu showed that neural tube (Vivarelli and Cossu, Dev. Biol. 117: 319-325, 1986) and dorsal ectoderm (Cossu et al., Development 122: 429-437, 1996) activate, through different Wnts, distinct myogenic programs in epaxial and hypaxial somitic progenitors, a notion now reported in developmental biology textbooks (Gilbert S. Developmental Biology). He also pioneered studies on myogenic cell heterogeneity (Cossu and Molinaro, Curr. Topics Dev. Biol. 23, 185-208, 1987) whose molecular basis has been recently elucidated (Messina et al. Cell 2010). He developed the first pre-clinical model for analysis of human myogenic progenitors in vivo (Salvatori et al., Hum Gene Ther. 4: 713-723, 1993), and discovered the myogenic potential of a bone-marrow derived, circulating progenitor cell (Ferrari et al., Science 279, 1528-1530, 1998).

Giulio Cossu's studies on unorthodox derivation of myogenic cells by non-somitic tissues (Tajbakhsh et al., Neuron 13: 813-821, 1994; Salvatori et al., J. Cell Sci. 108: 2733-2739, 1995) set the basis for understanding the recruitment to myogenesis of non-myogenic cells, and the origin of multipotent mesoderm stem cells. GC identified an embryonic progenitor in the dorsal aorta (De Angelis et al. J Cell Biol. 147, 869, 1999), named the mesoangioblast, with the potential to contribute to mesoderm tissues upon transplantation (Minasi et al. Development 129, 2773, 2002). Mesoangioblasts were used for the first successful cell therapy protocols of muscular dystrophy in mice and dogs (Sampaolesi et al. Science 301, 487, 2003; Nature, 444, 574, 2006). Finally, Giulio Cossu has characterized human mesoangioblasts as a subset of muscle pericytes (Dellavalle et al. Nature Cell Biol. 2007). Together, these discoveries set the basis for a “first-in-man” phase I/II clinical trial based upon allo-transplantation of donor mesoangioblasts from an HLA-identical donor in patients affected by Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The trial started on March 15, 2011 and is currently in progress.

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