Robert G. Pergolizzi, Ph.D.

Stem Cell Research Laboratories, Bergen County Academies

Dr. Pergolizzi received a PhD degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Columbia University in New York.  He then did a fellowship in Human Genetics and Development at the same institution.  His early research focused on the biosynthesis of modified nucleotides, their relevance to disease, especially cancer, and the effects of environmental carcinogens on the coding properties of DNA and RNA.  He developed strategies for DNA sequencing and identified the first mutation in beta-thalassemia.

In 1982 he joined a startup biotech company, Enzo Biochem, in NY, where his attention turned to the development of non-radioactive DNA-based assays for infectious diseases.  He developed and patented several methods for signal amplification. One of the tests he developed was approved for human use by the FDA, and he learned and implemented the required Good Manufacturing Procedures (GMP) to produce and market the test.

He left the company in 1986 to become Director of Molecular Genetics for the North Shore-LIJ Health System and Associate Professor in Clinical Pathology at Cornell Medical College.  His lab focused on genetic testing, and he developed a patented PCR-based test which could detect the carrier state for the fragile-X syndrome for the first time. He also handled all aspects of space allocation, equipment purchase and maintenance, budgets for the research effort, interfacing with all departments of the Health System to facilitate operations.  He was a member of the hospital Institutional Review Board, Radioisotope Use and Ethics committees, and chairman of the Institutional Biosafety Committee. 

He later became Director of Gene Therapy and was given responsibility for the planning and development a research program in this area. He designed and build a GMP Viral Vector Lab and an ancillary major lab expansion project. This lab became a model for several other labs, including the GMP Vector lab at Weill Cornell which ultimately resulted in his recruitment to the Department of Genetic Medicine at Weill Cornell  Medical College, where his research  focused on developing gene therapy as a viable paradigm for the treatment of human disease.  His group embraced several diverse studies, including a method to treat von Willebrand disease by gene therapy.  He developed a technique, called “Segmental Trans-splicing” which permits the delivery of large or toxic genes in pieces for intracellular reassembly and expression. This strategy is also being used in other group projects including cystic fibrosis and most recently muscular dystrophy.  In addition, he directed several projects involving murine and human embryonic stem cells, using them as vehicles for gene transfer for the correction of several diseases, including alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency and hereditary tyrosinemia.  His stem cell research developed several techniques that are still in widespread use.

In 2006, he left Cornell to join the faculty of the Bergen County Academies, where he built and runs the Stem Cell Laboratories, and a major program to interest bright young people in careers in research.