Distinguished Alum: Joseph Tuscano scales numerous heights

Joseph Tuscano credits Sac State for launching a career that has taken him to rare heights in medicine.
Fri Sep 21, 2018

Joseph Tuscano is one of five people chosen to receive a 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award from Sacramento State.

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Joseph Tuscano ’84 (Chemistry) has something of a penchant for taking on mountains literal and figurative.

As he made a recent visit to Sacramento State, Tuscano was just back from a five-day wilderness adventure with his son. They averaged about 13 miles of hiking daily, clearing two 12,000-foot passes, two at 13,500, then the topper: summiting 14,505-foot Mount Whitney.

“That was tough,” he says.

So is his life’s work. Tuscano is one of the region’s top surgeons and cancer researchers, specializing in the treatment of leukemia, lymphoma, MDS and multiple myeloma as a deLeuze Endowed Professor of Medicine with UC Davis’ Comprehensive Cancer Center. He also is part of UCD’s adult stem cell transplant team.

Tuscano says he always wanted to work in a field where he could help people. He has done that and more.

“I pinch myself every day that these people trust me to make these incredibly important decisions,” he says. “But they do, and oftentimes the outcomes are amazing and people are alive when maybe they wouldn’t have been. That just gives you an incredible feeling.

“I’m enormously grateful, not only for me personally but for the people who I can help.”

He has two cancer-treatment patents pending, including one involving the use of fermented wheat germ proteins. Other awards and honors include two fellowships with the National Institutes of Health, where he was honored with the NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence in 1996; and one with UC Davis Medical Center, where he was given the Christine Landgraf Memorial Award in 1997 and the Cure for Lymphoma Scholar Award in 1999.

None of it happens for him without Sac State, he says. The Department of Chemistry, which was at the time small, was very familial, he says. Visits to professors’ homes helped forge lasting bonds. Tuscano and others in whom potential was seen were pushed by their teachers, whose enthusiasm Tuscano found contagious. With their guidance, he earned acceptance into some of the nation’s best grad schools, eventually chosing USC.

So enamored with chemistry, early on he wanted to be a professor. But stability and the assurance that he still could do research pushed him toward medicine.

Now, he says, he does exactly what those professors told him he could. And though he’s far from conquering professional peaks, recognition as a Distinguished Alumni is a fitting accent for his career. Tuscano says he is humbled by the honor, which he sometimes found himself daydreaming about on commutes past the electronic billboard that rises from the campus’ south end and peers over Highway 50.

“But more importantly I would want to honor Sac State for what they gave me,” he says. “It wasn’t just an education. It was much more than that.

“There is no way I would be where I am today at all if not for – not just my education but the guidance and interactions that I had here at Sac State. That is the foundation that is the basis for my entire career and basically my life. It’s pretty incredible.” – Ahmed V. Ortiz