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Gian Franco Bottazzo

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 06 November 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5120
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Pioneering researcher into type 1 diabetes and legendary lecturer

In 1969, at the age of 23, Gian Franco Bottazzo—a medical student at the University of Padua in Italy—travelled to London on a quest for knowledge. The young Italian was fascinated by immunology and spent countless hours in a university laboratory. To advance in the specialism, he wanted to learn the latest laboratory techniques.

In London, Bottazzo visited Middlesex Hospital and appeared before Deborah Doniach, an acclaimed researcher of autoimmune diseases (read obituary:, who had not met the charming young man before.

“I would like to learn immunopathology,” Bottazzo said.

With no hesitation, the world famous researcher replied: “Come tomorrow morning, nine o’clock.”1

After learning the techniques used in Doniach’s laboratory, Bottazzo went back to Padua to finish his medical studies. He returned to London in the autumn of 1973 to work with Doniach as a research fellow in the department of immunology at Middlesex Hospital.

Landmark discovery

A year later Bottazzo was the lead author, and Doniach a co-author, of a landmark paper published in the Lancet, which showed for the first time that type 1 diabetes is associated with the development of antibodies directed against insulin producing β cells.2 In simpler terms, Bottazzo showed that type 1 diabetes was an autoimmune disease.

The paper, according to PubMed, was only the second in Bottazzo’s research career and his first in English. In 1972 he had published a paper in an Italian journal.3

The discovery shown in Bottazzo’s study opened the door for …

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