Augustine Joseph “Joe” D’Ercole, M.D., one of the giants of pediatric endocrinology, died on December 21, 2023 at home in Chapel Hill, NC. Joe graduated from the University of Notre Dame, B.A., in 1965 and Georgetown School of Medicine, M.D., in 1969. He completed Pediatric Residency in 1972 at Tufts New England Medical Center – Boston Floating Hospital followed by two years as a Public Health Service Officer assigned to the Environmental Protection Agency in Stoneville, MS.
Joe came to the University of North Carolina in 1974 as a postdoctoral fellow in Pediatric Endocrinology. After completing his fellowship training, he stayed at UNC as a clinician, mentor/teacher, and investigator. His great interest in the neonate led him to focus on the role of hormones and growth factors in the control of fetal growth.
His pivotal contribution was to provide the first conclusive evidence that IGF-I is made in multiple tissues and acts on its target tissues by not only in endocrine fashion, but also autocrine and paracrine modalities. This finding opened the door to questions about the role of IGF-I in virtually every tissue in the body. Joe later became one of the pioneers in developing genetically altered mouse models. Using IGF-I transgenic mice (using both overexpressed and knockout phenotypes), he made the seminal observations that overexpression of IGF-I leads to larger than normal brains, while its reduced action leads to smaller than normal brains. These studies led to a long series of remarkable studies on the role of IGF-I in the myelination and growth of the brain. Joe pursued these now classic studies by retooling in the science of developmental neurology. His contributions and extraordinary work ethic have also resulted in continuous funding from NIH for his entire professional career, an accomplishment that few have achieved and over 150 peer-reviewed articles.
Joe became the Chief of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and the head of postgraduate training program in endocrinology in 1998 and served in this role until 2008. This program had been continuously funded by the NIH over 50 years and has been recognized as one of its most successful training programs, with well over 200 individuals having received training in this program. His research was recognized by the E. Mead Johnson Award for Pediatric Research. He also authored over 50 book chapters and/or invited manuscripts. Through the years, he served on many university, medical school, and professional society committees. He was Chairman of the Pediatric Endocrinology sub board of the American Board of Pediatrics, held the Harry S. Andrews Distinguished Professorship in Pediatrics, and sat on numerous NIH study sections and editorial boards for scientific journals.
Although Joe was internationally known for his basic research, he was locally known for his expertise and compassion in the care of children. In this regard he mentored hundreds of students, residents, fellows, and staff in clinical care, and he taught the importance of thorough assessments, careful deliberation, and excellent communication with, and advocacy for, his patients.
As General Mac Arthur in his address to Congress in 1951 said “old soldiers never die, they just fade away”. I believe this is true for scientists as well. Joe faded away from the world but will always be with us.