Scientist Ned Ballatori Dies at Age 54

Dec. 27, 2011
Ned Ballatori, Ph.D.

Nazzareno “Ned” Ballatori, Ph.D., of Brighton, a scientist who helped build the Environmental Medicine program at the University of Rochester Medical Center into an internationally acclaimed program, passed away Dec. 25 after a battle with a rare form of cancer, angiosarcoma. Dr. Ballatori, a professor of Environmental Medicine, was 54.

Dr. Ballatori was part of a team of scientists responsible for building the University’s Department of Environmental Medicine, where scientists study how the body responds to environmental agents, into one of the top programs worldwide.

“Ned gave everything he had to his colleagues, his students, his family, his laboratory and the department,” said Debbie Cory-Slechta, Ph.D., professor of Environmental Medicine. “He set the bar very high, and his views were very well respected. Even though he is no longer with us, his advice will long be remembered and will continue to influence our activities for many years.”

For the past 12 years, Dr. Ballatori was director of the Toxicology Training Program, where young scientists received research training enabling them to undertake their own research programs focused on the effects of environmental agents on human health. Since 2003 he was also the deputy director of the University’s Environmental Health Sciences Center, funded by the National Institutes of Health. Both programs have been funded at the University for several decades – in recent years, largely because of Dr. Ballatori, colleagues say.

“Ned told you exactly what he thought, and he was usually right on with his comments,” said Thomas Gasiewicz, Ph.D., professor and chair of Environmental Medicine and director of the center. “You always wanted to hear his opinion, because his insights were very helpful. When evaluating an idea, one of the first questions we’d ask was, ‘What does Ned say about it?’”

Dr. Ballatori was born on December 11, 1957 in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, and immigrated with his family to East Rochester when he was 9 years old. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1980 at the University, then studied with mercury expert Thomas Clarkson, Ph.D., earning his doctorate in toxicology at the School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1984. After completing a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale, he joined the faculty of Rochester’s School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1987.

“Ned was one of the most careful, thorough and logical research thinkers I have ever encountered,” said Clarkson, who appointed Dr. Ballatori to the Rochester faculty. “I feel I have lost an academic son.”

During his career Dr. Ballatori mentored more than 30 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows – scientists who have gone on to careers as physicians, dentists, pharmacists, writers, university researchers, and scientists in industry. Researchers from Japan, the Netherlands, Thailand and China traveled to his laboratory to learn from him.

Dr. Ballatori was an expert on the transport proteins that molecules use to get into and out of cells. His knowledge resulted in new findings about the molecular machinery that toxins like mercury use to damage our health.

That work led to crucial findings related to how the body handles cholesterol and other lipids. Doing research in a fish known as the little skate, a close cousin to the stingray, Dr. Ballatori discovered a protein complex called OST that plays a key role in how our body processes cholesterol. The finding offered researchers a new target in their quest to help people lower their cholesterol and stave off obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. In 2008 the work earned Dr. Ballatori the Adolf Windaus prize from the Falk Foundation in Germany, which is awarded only once every two years to a scientist worldwide.

Dr. Ballatori did much of his research at the Mt. Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Salsbury Cove, Maine. For the past 19 years, he served as the deputy director of the laboratory’s Center for Comparative Toxicology.

“Ned had a great work ethic – he was always available and always responsive. He was dedicated to this university and to his colleagues. Just last week he was working in his office, making arrangements to be sure his students and colleagues would be taken care of as much as possible,” added Gasiewicz. 

Dr. Ballatori is survived by his wife, Jeanne L. DelSignore, M.D., of Brighton; his children Sarah, Rachel, and Alexander; his mother, Ada Ballatori; brother Albert (Marisa) Ballatori; sisters Teresa (Nino) Spano and Marcella Sabatini; and many relatives, friends, and colleagues.Calling hours are from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 30, at the Anthony Funeral Chapel, 2305 Monroe Avenue, Brighton. A memorial service at the chapel will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 31. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Wilmot Cancer Center, Alumni and Advancement Center, 300 E. River Road, Box 278996, Rochester, NY 14627.