Case Studies

Building a Leading Transplant Center in Sicily, Italy


Cross-Continental Partnership Meets Local Needs and Drives Economic Growth

Istituto Mediterraneo per i Trapianti e Terapie ad Alta Specializzazione (ISMETT), a public-private partnership between the Cervello and Civico hospitals of Palermo and the region of Sicily, was established to meet the area’s urgent need for a specialized hospital and transplantation center. With UPMC’s support, the center was designed and built into a leading European health and research center that not only provides excellent patient care, but also serves as a major economic driver for Sicily.

Addressing an Urgent Unmet Need in Sicily

With high incidences of disease, more than 2,000 people who were dying each year from liver-related diseases and a severe lack of transplant organs, Sicily faced an urgent need for a high-quality transplant hospital. These factors combined with the challenges of sending patients away from their homes for care, which cost the Sicilian government millions of euros a year.

Cervello Hospital, recognized as a leading center for treating end-of-life liver disease, asked UPMC to help Sicily care for patients in the region. UPMC agreed, bringing its renowned organ transplant programs and a successful transplant hospital model.

Translating American Medicine into International Settings

To meet the challenges inherent in working in a new region of the world, UPMC worked closely with Cervello Hospital to translate best practices from the United States into practical solutions for Sicily to co-create the new transplant center. The partners focused on best-in-class research, teaching and patient care, as well as hospital management. The goal was a world-class program that also would hold down costs.

“For us, being part of the UPMC network meant having access to an enormous amount of knowledge, in addition to the latest technology and equipment,” said Dr. Bruno Gridelli, chief executive officer of ISMETT and executive vice president of UPMC International. “UPMC offers expert financial and organizational management to its international partners. They know how to create efficiencies… [They] always consider the sustainability of the treatment… [and] adapt well to the local culture.”

“Being part of the UPMC network meant having access to an enormous amount of knowledge, in addition to the latest technology and equipment.”

Dr. Bruno Gridelli, Chief Executive Officer of ISMETT and Executive Vice President of UPMC International

Realizing the Dream

The partnership between UPMC and Cervello Hospital led to the first organ transplant being performed in Palermo on July 30, 1999. A year later, The Wall Street Journal reported that ISMETT represented “a new frontier for American high-tech exports,” describing the initiative as the “most ambitious effort” by a U.S. medical center.

By 2004, a new $58 million (€51 million), 70-bed hospital was opened, designed to accommodate the most advanced technology and equipment and ensure the highest level of comfort for patients and their families.

ISMETT had fulfilled its promise: Sicilian patients could at last receive care in their home region, avoiding the challenges and disruptions that can occur when traveling for medical treatments. By 2006, the hospital was performing more than a hundred transplants per year, attracting patients from South America, Israel, Greece, Malta and Arab countries.

But still more was needed— the center soon expanded its clinical service line, adding surgical oncology; a strong cardiac surgery program; lung, kidney and pancreas transplantation; and care for patients with chest, abdominal and other complex diseases.

“The partnership with UPMC has been extraordinary,” said Salvatore Camiolo, manager of the Sicilian Liver Transplant Association that operates at ISMETT. “To develop an institute of this kind where you can be treated to the same standard as in the United States is the most we could have hoped for. And it has happened.”

“The partnership with UPMC has been extraordinary. … I think everyone, not only the patients but also the doctors, regarded Pittsburgh as a safe haven in a storm.”

– Salvatore Camiolo, Manager of the Sicilian Liver Transplant Association that operates at ISMETT

Positive Outcomes Fuel Research, Education, Investment and Expansion

Since its inception, ISMETT has been repeatedly ranked by the National Transplantation Center as among the Italian centers with the best patient outcomes. It has also helped to build a reputation for excellence in Sicily  for science, technological advancement, research and specialty medical training, including regenerative medicine.

Perhaps most significantly, the success of ISMETT propelled the creation of a $398 million (€352 million) Biomedical Research and Biotechnology Center in Palermo. The center is managed by Ri.MED (Research in the Mediterranean), a foundation comprised of the Italian government, the Region of Sicily, the National Research Council, the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC.

ISMETT has made a strong contribution to the economic output of Sicily— an estimated $150 million (€132 million) in 2013 through direct and indirect support of more than 1,800 jobs, according to a 2014 independent study by Battelle Memorial Institute.

With the combined capability of Ri.MED and ISMETT, Sicily is poised to become a globally competitive location for bioscience, supported by the application of state-of-the-art information technology and health system management.

Now, a decade into the partnership, the story of success continues with significant expansion plans underway to more than double the center’s current capacity.

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