A grateful alumna and her husband, touched by the late former Gov. Paul Cellucci’s struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), have pledged $1 million to the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund to support ALS research at UMass Medical School. The gift by Diane M. (Casey) Riccio, PhD ’03, and her husband, Dan Riccio, of Los Gatos, Calif., is the largest alumni donation ever to UMass Medical School since its founding in 1962.
The UMass ALS Cellucci Fund supports the research of Robert H. Brown Jr., DPhil, MD, Gov. Cellucci’s physician and one of the world’s leading ALS researchers.
“First and foremost, we wanted to help UMass Medical School,” said Diane Riccio, who studied cell motility in the laboratory of George B. Witman, PhD, the George F. Booth Chair in the Basic Sciences and professor of cell & developmental biology, whom she described as a “great mentor and advisor and a tremendous role model.”
“We didn’t know Governor Cellucci personally, but we were following the stories about his struggle with the disease and his campaign to raise money for Dr. Brown to find a cure, or at least a more effective treatment. His death was so tragic, and Dan and I decided we wanted to see what we could do to help,” she said.
Gov. Cellucci created the fund in 2011 soon after he was diagnosed with ALS. He spent the last years of his life leading a campaign to raise money for the fund, which will support interdisciplinary laboratories at UMMS under the direction of Brown, the Leo P. and Theresa M. LaChance Chair in Medical Research and chair and professor of neurology.
Brown continues to make seminal discoveries in identifying gene defects that may be targets for treatment in neurodegenerative diseases, which include multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and ALS.
“We always knew that someday we would give back to UMass,” said Diane Riccio. Dan Riccio is also an alumnus of UMass, graduating from the Amherst campus in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. “When we found out about the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund, and we met Dr. Brown on campus and heard about his research, we were very inspired by what we learned.”
“We feel privileged to have Diane and Dan Riccio as generous supporters of our medical school,” said Chancellor Michael F. Collins. “The Riccios’ remarkable gift is a fitting tribute to Governor Cellucci’s legacy and an inspiring demonstration of support for the pioneering work of Dr. Brown and the team of ALS researchers at UMass Medical School. With this gift, Dr. Brown and his colleagues will accelerate their efforts at finding a possible cure for ALS, which is the ultimate goal of the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund.”
Dan Riccio is senior vice president of hardware engineering at Apple, Inc. Diane Riccio is the executive director of a not-for-profit organization that teaches physical, earth, life and social sciences to 30,000 pre-school through eighth-grade students in Santa Clara County and the Silicon Valley each year.
This gift comes at an important juncture in Brown’s research. For the next year, he is stepping back from his administrative duties as chair of the Department of Neurology so he can focus full time on an important research priority: pre-clinical development of a novel therapy for familial ALS, using a viral vector to deliver synthetic microRNA.
The UMass ALS Cellucci Fund supports Brown and his colleagues as they pursue ALS research leads and breakthroughs that might otherwise take years to attract funding from traditional sources. As a result, the fund helps prepare UMMS researchers to seize the moment to make breakthrough ALS discoveries when innovative ideas strike.
To date, the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund has raised more than $3 million in gifts and pledges from across the Commonwealth and North America.
To learn more about the Cellucci Fund, visit www.umassals.com.