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ASCP Resident Subspecialty Grant Shifts a Resident’s Career Path

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A month-long intense study of the placenta with an expert changed a resident’s career direction. Funded by an ASCP subspecialty grant, Gabrielle A. Rizzuto, MD, PhD, learned how to approach the placenta as a gross specimen and apply diagnoses with renowned expert Kurt Benirschke, MD, at the University of California, San Diego.

Her new knowledge propelled her next career step. Dr. Rizzuto will join the Experimental Medicine Division spearheaded by Joseph “Mike” McCune, MD, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, (UCSF) to study how certain infections cross the placental barrier and affect the mother and baby.

“Placentas are fascinating, readily available for study, and hold the potential for diagnosing conditions that affect both the mother and baby,” said Dr. Rizzuto, a resident at UCSF. “In general surgical pathology, however, the placenta is too often overlooked. I want to do research that helps to address unanswered questions about preterm labor and infection during pregnancy. Hopefully, new discoveries and a more complete understanding will ultimately allow for more accurate clinical diagnosis and rational development of therapeutics.”

Annually, ASCP funds two rounds of subspecialty grants for residents. The grants allow students to help pay for the cost of conducting their desired elective rotations at outside institutions in pathology. The time of study varies from one, two, or four weeks, and ASCP provides stipends of $500, $1,000, or $2,000, depending on the length of rotation. The program is designed to allow residents to broaden their training experience by exposing them to material not currently available at their own institution and by allowing them to work with a prominent pathologist of their choice.

As a doctoral and medical student, Dr. Rizzuto studied immunology and became aware of the role of the placenta. One of a few placenta experts worldwide, Dr. Benirschke has studied placentas of both human beings and animals for more than five decades.

“Placentas are an understudied topic in science, but it’s very important to the baby’s outcome and future development” said Dr. Benirschke. “Gabrielle is really turned on by this topic and is a terrific person and researcher. She can make new discoveries in this field.”

“I was able to interact with a wonderful teacher who has become an amazing mentor, which was the most valuable part of the experience,” Dr. Rizzuto said. “He certainly boosted my motivation to study this field.”

She not only learned about the human placenta, but also about the placenta of other species by visiting the San Diego Zoo and viewing Dr. Benirschke’s collection of data on monkeys, mice, rats, and vampire bats. In her next step at Dr. McCune’s laboratory, Dr. Rizzuto plans to study the basic biology of the fetal immune system through the placenta and perform translational research to learn more about how certain infections affect the mother and baby.

Applications for Round 1 of the ASCP subspecialty research grants are due Aug. 14, 2012. ASCP residents in their first through fourth years are eligible to apply. Read more at