Obituary: Gian Franco Bottazzo who discovered that type one diabetes was an auto-immune disease

Gian Franco Bottazzo was born in Venice in 1946. He died there on 15 September 2017.

After graduating at the University of Padua he moved to London in 1973 to study immunology with Deborah Doniach. A year later they published their paper in the Lancet proving that type one diabetes is associated with the development of antibodies to the insulin producing pancreatic beta cells. This paper stimulated a wave of research into the immunological basis of thyroid and pituitary diseases.

Bottazzo enjoyed speaking about his research, and gave his talk the title, ” Death of a beta cell: homicide or suicide?”

As a young man, Bottazzo, nearly missed out on his medical career as he was a promising football player and came close to signing for Venezia, which was in the Premier League at the time. Fortunately he completed his studies.

For many years Bottazzo held professorial appointments in London and published on the HLA antibodies. In 1998 he returned to Italy to work as scientific director to the Baby Jesus Hospital in Rome.  He leaves a wife and daughter.


BMJ 9 December 2017

3 thoughts on “Obituary: Gian Franco Bottazzo who discovered that type one diabetes was an auto-immune disease”

  1. Just seen this (November 2021). Franco was a marvellous chap.He and I worked in Deborah Doniach’s lab screening patient’s sera looking for antibodies to various human tissues. Franco was a researcher. I was a final year medical student doing a three month secondment and interested in the new area of autoimmunity. We did the screening using a method of immunofluorescence on frozen tissue sections. One afternoon looking at fluorescnce when examining a section of pancreatic islet cells I saw a brilliant fluorescence never seen before. Calling Deborah Doniach, on seeing the slide she became wildly excited throwing her arms in the air and making various delighted exclamatory remarks.
    This was the discovery of the islet cell antibody. As I was only a temporary member of the department Francesco was appointed to unravel the mysteries of this antibody culminating in the eventual publication by him and Deborah in the Lancet.
    Unfortunately, I missed out on the twists and turns of the unravelling process returning to my medical studies, qualification and a subsequent fulfilling and fascinating career.
    However Franco and I did have a celebratory drink together that evening of the discovery. Middlesex Hospital and the immunology centre in Arthur Stanley House were conveniently placed near a number of hostelries.
    We discussed what the future might hold for us. In his case I surmised that once the world knew of the islet cell antibody discovery the diabetic world would become his oyster as it duly did. In my case as only an embryonic doctor rather like a butterfly emerging from a crysalis to become an imago I had no idea what the world had in store.
    However what I learned was that it is unimportant as to whom makes a discoverey as long as the discovery is made and there is a benefit to others. Applying that principle throughout my career I have covered a vast array of medical disciplines and helped in numerous discoveries and enjoyed collaborations with some of the most fascinating minds of our scientific age.
    Franco’s contribution was immense and it is sad that he is gone.
    Michael J Shield, 29.11.2021

    Liked by 1 person

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