Click here to read the articles by Anne Jakowenko 

Photos of the meeting of Beryl Longuet with Barbara and Barry Gibb after many years.
2013, copyright David Longuet. 

Garden and sculpture outside of main entrance to DRI

story and photos: Anne Jakowenko

After leaving Dr. Ricordi’s office, I was already numb with the realization that I wasn’t in just any hospital setting. This Institute leads the world in cure-focused research dedicated to curing diabetes. I was inside of the largest and most comprehensive center in the world dedicated to helping the millions of children and adults who are affected by this disease. 

Dr. Pileggi in lab telling me about his work

What happened next was beyond my

Dr. Pileggi in lab telling me about his work

imaginings because I was about to meet one-on-one with the brilliant scientists whose work is making giant strides towards a cure. Antonello, Cherie, Midhat and Giacomo are their first names. If I were to list their degrees, achievements and diverse research endeavors, it would cover the rest of this page. However, they had certain traits in common, and their energy jumped out at me like mini-lightening bolts, and I kept feeling the hair on my arms stand up and chills run through my body as they described their ongoing work. As an English teacher, descriptive adjectives come to mind, and they are all superlatives. Passionate, dedicated, sincere, accomplished and modest are only a few. So what do they do when they go to work every day? Well, here’s a small peek into their world at DRI.

Dr. Stabler showing me the scaffolding material


Dr. Stabler showing me the scaffolding material

Dr. Cherie Stabler, Ph.D, is a young, attractive blond woman, a wife, a mother of two, soft-spoken and a natural communicator, the type of person you’d want to sit and have coffee with. She also is a scientist whose work centers on the development of novel biomaterials cellular encapsulation; three -dimensional scaffolds. What this means is that this sponge-like material is about the size of a quarter, partially made of silicone, and built like a scaffold (quite a bit of open space). The silicone is about 10% of the scaffold, and in the remaining space tiny pores can house thousands of insulin-producing cells. This support structure provides each islet its own space. There’s much more to this process and the scaffold is in stages of testing, and I am certainly being simplistic in my explanation. Cherie took me to the laboratory and even let me see and touch the material. She is truly doing fascinating work.

Dr. Abdulreda at the "living window" computer screen

Dr. Midhat Abdulreda, M.S., Ph.D.
Dr. Abdulreda is tall with a strong posture and serious eyes, handsome in a doctor sort of way, which in my mind means he is spotlessly groomed, well-dressed and intense. After five minutes with him I was mesmerized, as he explained his “living window” model and took me to the “inner sanctum” where I was able to see for myself the eye of a healthy mouse with transplanted pancreatic islets. On a large computer screen, I could see the images of islets transplanted in the eye. Dr. Abdulreda studies the immune responses during diabetes development or rejection of transplanted pancreatic islets. He is exploring islet transplantation into the anterior chamber of the eye as a potential clinical transplantation site in the treatment of type 1 diabetes. I could have listened to him talk all day and stared at that screen until I was in a hypnotic state. Amazing research strides, amazing man.

Giacomo explaining his work to me

Dr. Giacomo Lanzoni, Ph.D.

Giacomo explaining his work to me

Dr. Lanzoni is a young, outgoing Italian who recently brought his new wife to Miami from Italy, and he has a Maurice Gibb kind of personality. For Bee Gee fans, you know exactly what I mean because his demeanor is one of exuberance for his work, and he has a natural charm and likeability. Dark- eyed with longish raven hair, he looks more like an actor than a scientist. One quickly learns of his passion from the moment he speaks; his focus is stem cell research. He concentrates on identification of adult stem cells with the potential to become insulin-producing beta cells. From what I understand, stem cells have the potential to become any kind of cell. The challenge is to push the stem cells down the path the scientists want them to go-to emerge as cells that sense glucose and secrete insulin. Echoing Dr. Pileggi’s sentiments, Dr. Lanzoni loves the idea of different disciplines “combining their ideas together.” He is working on projects that could lead to a limitless supply of healthy insulin- providing cells for transplants. “This is one building that has it all, with different views on the problems.” I have to admit that I had a lump in my throat when he said to me, “People here spend their entire lives researching, working day and night. We get strength together, so we help reach out to the patients. We can feel their love and support, but we also feel their suffering.” His soulful sincerity was infectious. Get out your checkbooks, Bee Gee fans.

Part III coming up-The Barry and Gary Story and what Bee Gee fans can do to help.