ISMETT Founder Receives Highest Honor from Italian Government

By: Courtney Caprara

Dr. Ugo Palazzo, a founder of UPMC-managed ISMETT, one of Europe’s leading organ transplant facilities located in Palermo, Italy, was recently awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, the country’s highest honor, for “having devoted his life to caring for patients and looking for solutions to alleviate their pain.”

The prefect of Palermo, Dr. Antonella De Miro, presented the honor in December on behalf of the Italian president, which recognizes individuals who have made distinguished contributions to Italy through their work in the sciences, literature, the arts, economics and public service, as well as social, philanthropic and humanitarian contributions.

A hepatologist with the department of medicine at Cervello Hospital in Palermo since 1974, Palazzo collaborated with his mentor, Dr. Luigi Pagliaro, to form ISMETT, a public-private partnership between UPMC and the Region of Sicily. This center of excellence in the field of transplantation established local care for patients who previously were forced to travel to the north of Italy or abroad to receive an organ transplant.

“I have been working with Dr. Palazzo for over 15 years in Palermo and have always admired his dedication, competence and perseverance in providing the best possible care to patients and their families,” said Dr. Bruno Gridelli, executive vice president, UPMC International, and managing director of UPMC in Italy. “He has been a key local leader in the development of the successful partnership between the Region of Sicily and UPMC that established ISMETT, which benefits thousands of patients each year and positively impacts the social and economic development of Sicily.”

Founded in June 1997, ISMETT was included in the regional health system in 2012 and two years later was designated as a government-approved research hospital, or Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico (IRCCS). The designation acknowledges ISMETT for its excellence in research, training, quality of care and management of health services.

“Dr. Palazzo’s foresight, knowledge of the Sicilian region and mediation skills formalized an international private-public partnership that made UPMC’s experience and know-how available to the citizens of Sicily and the rest of Italy, reducing the enormous economic and social costs that came with the previous need to travel for transplants,” said Dr. Angelo Luca, director of ISMETT. “Thanks to Dr. Palazzo, ISMETT and UPMC, the ‘hope trips’ for organ transplantation have not been necessary for over 20 years, and ISMETT is now fully integrated into the regional public health network.”

Last year, ISMETT and the Region of Sicily signed a 10-year renewal of their longtime partnership for managing the facility. The agreement provides funding that will expand the number of beds in the hospital by almost 50 percent and affirms the region’s support for a new hospital to be built in Sicily adjacent to the planned Biomedical Research and Biotechnology Center, both of which also will be operated by UPMC.