Dr Esteban Gurzov is one of the first participants to be part of the JDRF/Macquarie Group Foundation Future Research Leaders Pilot Program. Dr Esteban Gurzov fell in love with science as a young boy when his Dad bought him Carl Sagan’s book Cosmos. He was hooked, writing letters to NASA and waiting anxiously for the replies to arrive, in envelopes with logos and pictures of the space missions. He decided to become a scientist and provide his “small contribution to one of the most relevant and rewarding human activities.” It might not surprise you that he’s also a big sci-fi fan.
Dr Gurzov has just been appointed to an exciting new role in Brussels, furthering type 1 diabetes research. So, we took the opportunity to have a chat about his experience in the JDRF/Macquarie Group Foundation Future Research Leaders Program.
Dr Gurzov, tell us about your type 1 diabetes research
My research interest is to understand “why and how” the immune system attacks and kills insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. My team’s recent discoveries indicate that a group of proteins called PTPs play a direct role in the fate of beta cells in type 1 diabetes (T1D). We think that the PTP proteins are affected by inflammation in the pancreas, which could trigger the processes that can cause T1D to develop. Our group uses sophisticated technology and techniques to determine what signals are leading to beta cell destruction. We hope that targeting these proteins may eventually lead to new treatments or ways to prevent T1D.
What are the next steps for your research?
In addition to trying to understand exactly how the beta cells are killed, we are also designing new molecules that will hopefully allow us to detect the disease early, before beta cell loss is irreversible. We hope this will result in early diagnosis and more efficient treatments. The earlier someone is diagnosed, the better the chances of avoiding diabetic ketoacidosis, which makes them seriously ill. It’s a lot less traumatic for the person and their family.
What are some useful things you learned as part of the Program?
I felt privileged to be selected for the JDRF/Macquarie Group Foundation Future Research Leaders Program. In the first leadership skills workshop we learned how to improve our research, communicate to various stakeholders and develop bridges with companies that will help take our research out of the lab. In the follow-up workshop, we learned how to build high performing collaborations, maintain high impact research environments, and project management.
How do you think the Program has influenced your career?
The program was extremely timely. I am in transition from bench-side research to laboratory head and never had the opportunity to be trained in leadership. It was also very important to learn the expectations of JDRF as a funder of T1D research. This is a unique characteristic of JDRF, providing a fluent dialog with researchers to achieve a final common goal: curing type 1 diabetes. I also established long-term collaborations with young and talented researchers in the field, which will open opportunities to develop new projects together.
How did you come to be in the field of T1D research?
After finishing my PhD studies in Spain, I moved to Belgium to do further training in the Laboratory of Experimental Medicine directed by Prof Decio Eizirik. It was there that I developed an interest in metabolism and type 1 diabetes. My studies were focused on the pathways induced by inflammatory molecules leading to death of insulin producing beta cells in type 1 diabetes. This research in Belgium was fully funded, published in several high-impact papers, and awarded with the Sanofi-Aventis prize in diabetes research. In 2013, I received a prestigious fellowship from JDRF, and I joined the Islet Biology Laboratory within the Immunology and Diabetes Unit at St Vincent’s Institute (SVI) in Melbourne. The highly stimulating scientific environment at SVI, together with my strong collaborations with local and international experts, my ability to attract competitive funding and train students helped me establish myself as a junior independent investigator.
Tell us about your new position in Brussels
I maintained very active collaborations in Belgium, and last year I received a competitive laboratory head position from the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS). I am now establishing a new laboratory in Brussels: The Signal Transduction and Metabolism group at the ULB Center for Diabetes Research. My research group will make use of animal studies and studies using human samples with a variety of scientific techniques to study cell function in diabetes. We will test new strategies to prevent beta cells from contributing to their own death in T1D. The success of these experiments will result in taking these strategies to future clinical trials.
Read about the launch of the JDRF/Macquarie Group Foundation Future Research Leaders Program.
Stay tuned to our blog to meet more of our FRLP participants, and get to know more about their research.