Ercole Cavalieri, D.Sc, is being remembered as "one of the great legends of UNMC" for his wealth of scientific knowledge and perspective. The retired professor and cancer researcher died Tuesday. He was 84.
Visitation will be Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m., followed by a wake service at 7 p.m., at John A. Gentleman Mortuaries, 72nd Street Chapel, 1010 N. 72nd St. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Pius X Catholic Church, 69th and Blondo Streets. A luncheon will follow in the parish center.
Dr. Cavalieri was a faculty member for 46 years in the Eppley Institute for Cancer Research and Allied Diseases, from January 1971 until retirement in November in 2017. He also served as professor in the UNMC Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from 1997-2008 and was director of the Center for Environmental Health and Toxicology in the College of Public Health from 1997-2010.
"Dr. Cavalieri was one of the great legends of UNMC, serving his entire career here," said Todd Wyatt, PhD, a professor in the UNMC Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine. "His contributions to developing research and graduate education paved the way for our modern-day toxicology track in the UNMC College of Public Health. While I never collaborated with him directly, I always enjoyed being regaled by his stories whenever I got the chance. Like so many other UNMC faculty who have served here for 40-plus years, he represented a priceless wealth of scientific knowledge and perspective."
He was a faculty member for 46 years in the Eppley Institute for Cancer Research and Allied Diseases, from Jan. 1971 until he retired in Nov. 2017. He also served as professor in the UNMC Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from 1997-2008 and was director of the Center for Environmental Health and Toxicology in the College of Public Health from 1997-2010.
Dr. Cavalieri’s research involved studying the cause of human cancer.
"Ercole Cavalieri was a longtime member of the Eppley Institute faculty with a long history of federal funding, including the first program project award for the Eppley Institute and the Cancer Center," said Ken Cowan, MD, PhD, director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. "He gained a national reputation for his work in carcinogens, as well as the role of estrogen metabolites in causing DNA mutations. Ercole also had a strong interest in cancer prevention, and co-authored numerous publications in this area with his frequent collaborator and colleague, Eleanor Rogan, PhD."
Jane Meza, PhD, interim executive director of the Office of Health Security, said: "I worked with Ercole for many years as a biostatistician. He was passionate about his work in cancer prevention and that is demonstrated by his long-standing research and publication record. I always appreciated how much he believed in his work and the importance of sharing the research with the scientific community."
During his career, he was awarded about $40 million in research funding, mostly from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Department of Defense Breast, Ovarian and Prostate Cancer Research Programs.
He was the principal investigator of one of the first program project grants at UNMC funded by the NCI, which ran from 1988-2006. He was the principal investigator on an early Breast Cancer Center of Excellence awarded by the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program from 2003-2007.
From 1990-2012, he served as the founding director of the University of Nebraska Center for Environmental Health and Toxicology which included UNMC, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The center included a graduate program, which turned out a small, but steady, stream of PhD graduates.
Dr. Cavalieri, who was born in Milan, Italy, earned a D.Sc. in chemistry from the University of Milan in 1962 and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Polytechnic of Zurich in 1963. He ultimately became an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Montreal from 1965-1968.
From 1968-1970, he worked as a postdoctoral Damon Runyon Fellow at the University of California-Berkeley studying chemical carcinogenesis in the lab of Nobel Laureate Professor Melvin Calvin.
Dr. Cavalieri authored about 250 peer-reviewed papers in chemical carcinogenesis. After many years of investigating how polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons initiate cancer, he turned to investigating how estrogens initiate cancer and discovered that the vast majority of estrogen-DNA adducts are lost from DNA, inducing mutations that lead to cancer. At the end of his career, he was investigating the prevention of estrogen-initiated cancer.
Having grown up with Ercole, I could relate to him as a daughter to a child. When I defended my dissertation in 2014, he was there to support me! (I wouldn't let my mom come; she terrifies me!) Even as a healthcare professional, I was at a loss when Ercole began speaking of their research; he was passionate and, well, that passion infused all he did, from the laboratory to the kitchen and beyond. Thanks to him, I have a full appreciate of The Three Tenors and the pleasure of seeing him become an American citizen. His contributions were many. He was family. He will be missed. Grazie, signore! Grazie!
Ercole was Passionate with a capital P. RIP.