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Dr. Joseph J. Palermo

Dr. Joseph J. Palermo
By France Griggs Sloat

Dr. Joseph J. Palermo | Bachelor of Science in biology, 1988 | M.D. and Ph.D. completing a four-year fellowship in pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis.

In His Blood | Palermo father’s a pharmacist and his uncle is a doctor. He thought about pre-law—for about two seconds—and went pre-med.

Double Duty | Palermo couldn’t shake the scientist in him, so in medical school he decided to get his doctorate as well. He earned his Ph.D. in pharmacology and cell biophysics in 1995 and his M.D. in 1997 from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. Now, at age 36, he’s a physician-scientist who understands the diseases that are afflicting the patients he treats.

Cause and Effect | “There are two parts to science—the patients and the basic science of how things work. I thought it was important to be rigorously trained to follow a scientific career as well. For me, it’s being able to understand the disease process and how it’s caused, and if you understand the molecular mechanism of the disease, then you can develop different therapies.”

Patience, Patients | Palermo specializes in gastroenterology pediatrics, meaning he treats everything in children from constipation to liver transplants.

Kid At Heart | “I’m a kid at heart. That was one of the biggest attractions with pediatrics.”

Science Story | He co-authored a study in Science that found recurring urinary tract infections may be caused by pods of e-coli bacteria that burrow inside the cells that line the bladder. The discovery is novel because it’s the first time such structures have been found inside cells. And it explains why some patients never completely recover from infections that do not respond to antibiotics or the body’s immune system.

Trigger Mechanism | “It’s valuable because we know our treatment methods must change,” he says. “We have to interrupt the cycle of infection or develop a treatment that gets into the cells to eliminate the bacteria.”

Lab Work | From 7:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m., Palermo works in a lab, peering into microscopes or at tiny catheters he threads into the bladders of mice. Other times he sees patients, but he never wants to do either exclusively. Patient care and research go hand in hand, he says.

Home Work | Someday, he’d like to bring his wife, Beth, and infant son back to Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital.

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