CTSI Scholar remembered as brilliant scientist

Maximiliano Rapanelli.

Published August 19, 2020


Maximilliano Rapanelli, PhD, passed away on August 4, 2020, at the age of 39. He was a research assistant professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Rapanelli was described as a brilliant scientist already making an impact in the enhanced understanding of psychiatric disorders. After earning his PhD in neuroscience and completing a two-year postdoctoral fellowship from the University of Buenos Aires School of Medicine, he joined the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University and in 2017, came to the University at Buffalo.

On January 1, 2018, Rapanelli was appointed as CTSI K Scholar under the Clinical and Translational Science Award-linked KL2 Mentored Career Development Award (MCDA). The CTSI K Scholar Program is designed to offer research mentoring, career and professional development, and funding to outstanding junior faculty transitioning to independent faculty positions.

During his time as a CTSI K Scholar, Rapanelli focused on a research project investigating the use of epigenetic drugs for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders. His findings revealed the circuit-specific functional role of autism risk genes (Cul3) on which he published a first author paper in the leading scientific journal Molecular Psychiatry in 2019. His research also included the identification of novel therapeutic agents for core symptoms of autism by targeting histone demethylation enzymes.

“It is with immense sadness that I remember Max’s life and scientific legacy,” says Margarita L. Dubocovich, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology; senior associate dean for diversity and inclusion, Jacobs School; principal investigator and program lead, CTSI K Scholar Program. “Max was a brilliant and unconventional scientist with a passion for understanding and discovering treatments for psychiatric disorders to alleviate the intense pain caused by these diseases. Since I first met Max before he joined our team as a CTSI K Scholar over three years ago, I have admired his strong determination to succeed and his ability to overcome barriers in his path to scientific independence. Max is leaving a void in our hearts and he will be dearly missed by our team.”

“I admired Max’s tenacity and energy that he invested in his research,” says CTSI Director Timothy F. Murphy, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor and senior associate dean for clinical and translational research. “He cared deeply about his work and its impact on people who lived with mental health disorders. Max’s passing is a tragedy. We will all miss him terribly.”

Rapanelli published 26 peer review papers and was first author on 16 of these articles. He was also the recipient of the prestigious NARSDAD Young Investigator Award from the Brain and Behavior Foundation.

“I was so impressed by Dr. Rapanelli’s research work on autism spectrum disorders,” says Kim Griswold, MD, MPH, RN, professor of family medicine, psychiatry and public health and the health professions, Department of Family Medicine, Jacobs School; collaborator, CTSI K Scholar Program. “He spoke movingly about the effects of autism, and demonstrated great empathy for children and adults living with the disorder.”

“I had the privilege to meet Max, a brilliant neuropsychiatry scientist, who was directly involved in the discovery of histamine neuronal pathways involved in key neuronal functions and in multiple psychiatry disorders,” Oscar G. Gomez, MD, PhD, associate professor and division chief of infectious diseases, Department of Pediatrics, Jacobs School; co-investigator and associate program lead, CTSI K Scholar Program. “I admired his unwavering sense of equality and justice in academia and public life. I also enjoyed his great sense of humor, camaraderie, and his undeniable passion for Latin American soccer. We are grateful for his scientific legacy and the memories he leaves behind.”

Rapanelli was a driven scientist focused on making an impact on enhanced understanding of the physiology of mental illnesses. He will be remembered as a vibrant personality full of brilliance, strength and humor. Rapanelli is survived by his wife and daughter.