In Memoriam: Rocco C. Venuto, MD, Kidney Expert

Rocco C. Venuto, MD

Published July 18, 2019

Rocco C. Venuto, MD, professor of medicine, a former chief of the Division of Nephrology and a leading researcher on chronic kidney disease and treatment, died July 11 at his Williamsville home. He was 77.

A UB alumnus and physician with UBMD Internal Medicine who cared for generations of chronic kidney disease patients in Western New York, Venuto had been synonymous with the field of nephrology in Buffalo and nationwide for half a century.

He received an award for 50 years of service to the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in June.

Individualized Interactions With Patients

Venuto was seeing and caring for patients up until the day he died.

“He was the physician that every patient would want: a superb diagnostician but extremely caring and patient,” says Brian M. Murray, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Nephrology. “He had a way of making patients feel comfortable, always remembering aspects of their non-medical life to break the ice at visits.”

Venuto’s colleagues say he strived to individualize his interactions with patients — especially when they were being informed about their kidney disease and the significant life changes they were facing.

As a mentor, he welcomed residents, fellows, nurses, pharmacists and medical students in the clinic and on rounds.

Significant Contributor to Kidney Care Studies

For more than four decades, Venuto contributed significantly to research focused on how to improve care for kidney patients, whether they were being medically managed or were transplant recipients.

An internationally recognized expert on hypertension in pregnancy, his research contributed significantly to the understanding of the pathophysiology of preeclampsia.

A tireless advocate for organ donation, in 2011 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Upstate New York Transplant Services, which he co-founded.

Venuto also received the Gift of Life Award from the Kidney Foundation of Western New York in 1999 and the Diversity of Spirituality Award from Erie County Medical Center (ECMC).

Utilized Big Data to Improve Care

He and his UB colleagues collaborated on studies that revealed the inadequacy of early detection and treatment of chronic kidney disease, and he was an advocate for earlier diagnosis.

As division chief of nephrology, Venuto partnered with UB’s Institute for Healthcare Informatics in a major New York State-funded study of kidney disease that utilized big data in order to improve the care of chronic kidney disease patients in Western New York.

As medical director of renal transplant and director of the chronic kidney disease program at ECMC, he treated patients, as he put it, “with virtually every aspect of kidney disease,” from those undergoing dialysis to those receiving transplants. He also cared for high-risk pregnant women with renal dysfunction at Oishei Children’s Hospital.

He collaborated with researchers from ECMC and UB’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences to improve the clinical impact of medications used in transplant immunosuppression regimens.

Niagara Falls Native Was National Expert

In research supported by the National Institutes of Health, UB and various pharmaceutical companies, Venuto and his colleagues helped define gender and racial differences that exist between patients and affect how immunosuppressive medications affect them in order to identify the best treatment protocol for each individual.

Venuto also was involved in a research project on the use of the only medication that appears to specifically benefit patients with polycystic kidney disease. Through this work, he and colleagues developed a leading national expertise in this field.

A member of the board of the Kidney Foundation of Western New York, Venuto chaired the End Stage Renal Disease Network of New York. He also was active in national organizations, including as a member of the American Society of Transplantation and a fellow of the American Society of Nephrology.

Venuto, who grew up in Niagara Falls, earned his bachelor’s degree at Niagara University and his medical degree from UB. He completed his residency at UB and completed fellowships at UB and Ohio State University.

Survivors include his wife of 54 years, Ann; a son, Rocco; three daughters, Maria, Lisa and Laura; a brother, Charles; a sister, Colette Greene; and six grandchildren.