Man's first steps on the moon in 1969 left a young David DiGiusto enthralled with science. Today, in his research, he turns his attention to inner space — and how to coax the body's natural defenses to battle disease.
The fuzzy black-and-white images of U.S. astronauts walking on the moon couldn't help but capture his imagination. Only 9 years old when the Apollo 11 voyagers shot into space, David DiGiusto grew fascinated by the wonders of science..
Today, as a researcher, he's still deeply curious about how living organisms work.
DiGiusto, Ph.D., is a research professor in City of Hope's Department of Virology and director of the Laboratory for Cellular Medicine. Every day, he has a mission: to tune the body's immune system to better fight disease. He currently works with other scientists to attack HIV in patients with AIDS-related lymphoma.
He remembers how it all started. At a young age, he enjoyed learning how things worked, sometimes taking items apart — radios and bicycles — and putting them back together. But some mysteries remained.
"Bicycles and radios were one thing, but things like frogs and bugs were another," he said. "It made me want to be a scientist to understand why." Specifically, he wanted to be a biologist.
And then astronaut Neil Armstrong set his boot on the moon's surface, taking one giant leap for mankind. The moment was magical for DiGiusto, and it sealed his desire to become a scientist.
"I wanted to be a biologist on the moon," he said, smiling.
While he wouldn't quite make it to the launch pad, DiGiusto never wavered from his goal of a career in scientific research. The quest took him through college and graduate school in Colorado and on to positions in academia as well as biotechnology companies before landing in his current position at City of Hope.
He now directs a 12-member lab aimed at bringing better treatments to patients.
"Our goal is to develop potential new therapies and get them into clinical use," he explained. "City of Hope is ideal for this because it has a research institute, a clinical outlet and a way to get from one to the other."
His work with the team developing a treatment for HIV/AIDS has shown great promise in early clinical studies, and they aim to begin a new clinical trial this year.
The ambition is to provide a lasting resistance to HIV for these patients, DiGiusto said. "And ultimately we hope to find a way to protect all AIDS patients, not just those with lymphoma."