DRC & Research News

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Alberto Hayek

The Untold Story of a Pediatric Endocrinologist – Dr. Alberto Hayek

Most people know me as a pediatric endocrinologist in San Diego, California. What most people do not know about me is that I was drafted into the US Army in my mid-20’s, soon after immigrating from Colombia to the US for postgraduate medical training. I was an ideal candidate to be drafted because I was young, single and a newly minted MD. I was sent to Vietnam to serve as a flight surgeon for an Army helicopter battalion.

Being the only MD for an Army flight battalion stationed in the heart of Mekong Delta put me in very close contact with all the pilots. My medical crew took care of those wounded during battle, mainly stabilizing vital signs before evacuating them to facilities for more definitive treatment. Part of my responsibilities included listening to the pilots’ private concerns because in their eyes, short of a minister, I had the capacity to understand and provide support. The rest of my time was spent caring for the many Vietnamese civilians hurt during combat operations.

I will never forget the soldiers suffering during the war or the wounded Vietnamese civilians of all ages. During the 40-plus years of medical practice after my war experiences, in a life dedicated to caring for children and their families, I have often relived an episode that touched me deeply. Civilians do not encounter the atrocities of war, but the pain of a family with an ill child confronting a difficult prognosis is akin to a missile sent from an unknown source.

In my clinical practice, I would ask each child I cared for, “If you could have one thing in the world, what would it be?” Their response was always the same, “I want a cure!” After years of receiving the same answer, I knew I had to do something different, so I went into research to try to find a cure. Witnessing the suffering of so many has profoundly impacted me which is why I cannot sit back and idly wait for a cure for Type 1 Diabetes (T1D).

As a T1D researcher, I was the first to show that it was possible to culture human fetal and adult islets. While we were able to replicate beta cells in vitro, we realized that they began to change into cells that could not produce insulin. However, when we re-aggregated them, they were able to make insulin again. By this time, human stem cells were developed and promptly directed to cells able to produce insulin. Important was to re-aggregate the cells, which is what my lab found. This discovery led to its use in protocols to facilitate the potential transplantation of insulin-producing cells from stem cells into T1D patients.

I founded the Diabetes Research Connection with David Winkler because we both believe there is more to do and are committed to funding early-career scientists with novel approaches to prevent, cure and better care for those with T1D.

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See our approved research projects and campaigns.

Role of the integrated stress response in type 1 diabetes pathogenesis
In individuals with type 1 diabetes (T1D), the insulin-producing beta cells are spontaneously destroyed by their own immune system. The trigger that provokes the immune system to destroy the beta cells is unknown. However, accumulating evidence suggest that signals are perhaps first sent out by the stressed beta cells that eventually attracts the immune cells. Stressed cells adapt different stress mitigation systems as an adaptive response. However, when these adaptive responses go awry, it results in cell death. One of the stress response mechanisms, namely the integrated stress response (ISR) is activated under a variety of stressful stimuli to promote cell survival. However, when ISR is chronically activated, it can be damaging to the cells and can lead to cell death. The role of the ISR in the context of T1D is unknown. Therefore, in this DRC funded study, we propose to study the ISR in the beta cells to determine its role in propagating T1D.
Wearable Skin Fluorescence Imaging Patch for the Detection of Blood Glucose Level on an Engineered Skin Platform
A Potential Second Cure for T1D by Re-Educating the Patient’s Immune System
L Ferreira
Validating the Hypothesis to Cure T1D by Eliminating the Rejection of Cells From Another Person by Farming Beta Cells From a Patient’s Own Stem Cells
Han Zhu
Taming a Particularly Lethal Category of Cells May Reduce/Eliminate the Onset of T1D
JRDwyer 2022 Lab 1
Can the Inhibition of One Specific Body Gene Prevent Type 1 Diabetes?
Is Cholesterol Exacerbating T1D by Reducing the Functionality and Regeneration Ability of Residual Beta Cells?
Regeneration Ability of Residual Beta Cells
A Call to Question… Is T1D Caused by Dysfunctionality of Two Pancreatic Cells (β and α)?
Xin Tong
Novel therapy initiative with potential path to preventing T1D by targeting TWO components of T1D development (autoimmune response and beta-cell survival)
flavia pecanha