New Director of Endocrinology and Diabetes Focused on Patient Access, Research
Francesco De Luca, MD, was comfortable and fulfilled in Philadelphia. The native of Italy came to the U.S. in 1989 for a fellowship at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in that city, and in 2001 he became Chief of the Section of Endocrinology and Diabetes at St. Christopher’s. He held that position until 2017, when “serendipity” (his word) intervened in a phone call from the chair of a search committee at Children’s Mercy.
That call set in motion a process that brought Dr. De Luca to Kansas City as Division Director of Endocrinology and Diabetes at Children’s Mercy in February 2018.
“After all those years at St. Christopher’s, I had no compelling reasons to leave,” he said. “Everybody knows you; you know everybody; you still like getting up every morning to go to work, and that’s a good feeling. I was the only endocrinologist at St. Christopher’s when I started there; when I left there were eight, so the program we built brought a real sense of accomplishment.”
However, Dr. De Luca added, when the call came from Children's Mercy, he was at a point in his career where he also was asking himself, “Am I motivated to do something different, something new, something meaningful? Do I see an opportunity to build further?”
That opportunity, he decided, was presented by Children’s Mercy.
'Solid, important institution'
“Children’s Mercy is obviously a very solid, important institution dedicated to providing the best patient care possible, while at the same time having the vision and the means to foster academic work and research in ways not often found elsewhere,” Dr. De Luca said, adding that there was another element involved.
“Coming from a Latin culture, an Italian culture, it’s important to feel a personal interaction at an institution, a friendly and amicable atmosphere. I felt that way when I visited here. One of my priorities in life—especially in my professional life—is to feel comfortable with the people I work with. I felt that immediately at Children’s Mercy, so it really wasn’t a difficult decision.”
Dr. De Luca assumed leadership of one of the busiest full-service Endocrinology and Diabetes programs in the country. In addition to caring for nearly 2,400 children diagnosed with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, Children's Mercy endocrinologists also offer several multidisciplinary focus clinics not typically available at other pediatric hospitals, including clinics for Turner Syndrome, 22q Deletion Syndrome, gender nonconforming behavior, and many others.
“My role, as I see it, is to help further strengthen a program that is already strong,” Dr. De Luca said. “I am part of a division that is well-established in terms of clinical care, academic work and meaningful, successful research. The job is clearly a challenge just in terms of this being an incredibly large division [with more than 20 pediatric endocrinologists and a staff of about 100]. Of course, things will come up, but those challenges are part of daily life and give you the opportunity to make positive change.”
Improve patient access, expand research
Reaching more patients, more frequently through technology such as telemedicine and widening fields of research are two priorities for the division, Dr. De Luca said. Children's Mercy commitment to research, as demonstrated by the many programs conducted by staff members, was another factor that influenced Dr. De Luca’s decision to come here. He describes himself as a clinician who enjoys seeing patients, and he also is continuing his bench research in addition to his administrative duties. His personal area of interest in research is growth.
“I’m interested in understanding how humans and other species grow in stature, in height,” he said. “Traditionally, for decades, research regarding growth focused on only three, four or five hormones which were thought to determine whether a person is, for example, 6 feet tall vs. 5 feet tall; we know now that clearly is not the case, because the effect of these hormones on growth is limited. The problem is, we don’t know exactly what other genes regulate normal growth; at this point, we probably know fewer than 20 percent of the genes involved in growth regulation.”
Identifying those genes and learning how to modulate them to correct impairment and lead to more normal growth is the challenge of the future in this field, Dr. De Luca said, adding that Children's Mercy is an ideal place to continue his research.
“Also, what I found extremely rewarding and reassuring is the fact that there’s a strong sense of philanthropy in Kansas City and a commitment of the city to this hospital,” Dr. De Luca said. “It’s not just in terms of moral support; there is tangible financial support, as witnessed by the new Children’s Research Institute building.”
When asked what message he would like to convey to the community, including families and referring physicians, Dr. De Luca said, “I want them to know we are a large, strong division, fully committed to providing the best endocrine care. That means keeping ourselves as up-to-date as possible with the most recent discoveries regarding diagnosis and treatment of endocrine disorders. It also means reaching as many patients and families as possible, in many different ways.”
Learn more about Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes at Children's Mercy.