Dr. John Paul SanGiovanni, associate professor in the School of Nutritional Sciences and Wellness and the BIO5 Institute, passed away on September 25. His family, friends, colleagues, and students remember him as a kind and caring man who dedicated himself to serving others through personal connection and through his groundbreaking research career. He is survived by his wife, Brigitte, his two sons, Jean-Philippe and Daniel, his parents, and his siblings.
“John Paul was a passionate and accomplished scientist with a remarkable breadth and depth to his work,” said Scott Going, former director of the School of Nutritional Sciences and Wellness. “He had a stellar career, and his scientific achievements were extremely impressive. But it was his zest for life and commitment to the people around him that will be missed most. He was always eager to help his colleagues and students – and their students and their families – in whatever way was needed.”
Dr. SanGiovanni joined the faculty at the University of Arizona in 2019, after nearly two decades at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he dedicated his career to developing food- and nutrient-based therapies for neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases. While there, he led large-scale, multi-center phase III clinical trials that resulted in standard-of-care treatments for age-related macular degeneration and won multiple NIH Director’s Awards, among others.
At the University of Arizona, Dr. SanGiovanni and his team employed emerging technologies and methodologies to advance our understanding of how our bodies interact with specific nutrients on a molecular level and how genetics influence our individual responses to those nutrients. His goal was to apply this knowledge to develop personalized interventions – to make better cures, for more people, more quickly.
“John Paul was interested in how our molecular biology functions in the context of not just the foods that we eat, but the complex compounds that are contained in the food and the biological mechanisms that enable us to derive benefit from them,” explained Dr. Steven Winston, emeritus director of the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory and founder of the CrisiScience Collaborative. “He also understood that it’s not just about the nutrients themselves but how you present them – both so that the body can actually use them, and so that people actually want to eat them.”
Dr. SanGiovanni was an internationally recognized scholar on molecular nutrition. His work at the University of Arizona was supported by the NIH and the National Science Foundation (NSF), among others. He was the founding director of the Center for the Study of Nutrient-Responsive Systems, the Director of Food and Nutrition Programs for the NSF Industry-University Collaborative Research Center to Stream Health Care in Place, and a 2022 delegate to the European Nutrition Genetics Society. His professional memberships included the American Society for Nutrition, the American Society for Human Genetics, the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids, and the American Society for Experimental Neurotherapeutics.
Dr. SanGiovanni’s groundbreaking research has been cited more than 20,000 times and has been published on the covers of such prestigious journals as Science, Nature Medicine, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. His career research interests spanned the fields of nutritional biochemistry, biostatistics, visual psychophysics, neuroscience, and epidemiological research design.
“He personified the ‘specialist generalist’ to a greater degree than anyone I’ve ever encountered,” Winston said. “He could burrow into the deepest details of the most universal subjects and pick out nuggets others would never see.”
In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests donations be made in his name to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital (https://www.stjude.org/give.html).