HOLLYWOOD, Fla., Jan. 14, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Diabetes Research Institute Foundation announced today that the Fred and Mabel R. Parks Foundation has made a $2 million gift to establish the Fred and Mabel R. Parks Cell Supply Center at the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI), located at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. This generous gift will greatly impact the DRI's singular mission to discover a biological cure for diabetes by restoring natural insulin production in patients.
DRI scientists and collaborators have already shown that patients who receive a transplant of pancreatic islet cells can live insulin-free and that the cells can function long-term. However, only a small group of patients are eligible for the procedure due to several challenges, among them is the limited supply of insulin-producing cells. The Fred and Mabel R. Parks Foundation gift addresses this challenge. The Center is charged with developing an unlimited supply of insulin-producing cells, which is a critical component in an exciting initiative underway at the DRI – the development of a "mini-organ" that mimics the native pancreas.
"We wanted to be a major part of the cure," stated Jim McClellan, president of the Fred and Mabel R. Parks Foundation and one of the organization's four trustees. "After I took a tour of the Diabetes Research Institute, I was impressed not only by the people working there but also because it is solely focused on a cure. And that's our motivation – to find the cure."
Within the Cell Supply Center, DRI researchers will continue to pursue a number of different strategies to create an unlimited supply of insulin-producing islet cells, including xenotransplantation (using cells from other species), transdifferentiation (transforming other cell types into insulin-producing cells), and pushing adult stem cells down the path of sensing glucose and secreting insulin. They're also looking at ways to regenerate – or regrow – islets that have been destroyed by the immune system.
"Developing alternative sources of insulin-producing cells is one of the most critical challenges we face in our commitment to cure diabetes. Thanks to this new gift by the Fred and Mabel R. Parks Foundation, I truly feel like we are one step closer to reaching our goal," said Robert A. Pearlman, president and CEO of the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation.
McClellan stated, "I've done a lot of research, and there are many organizations that say they are cure-focused but don't actually spend their money that way. At the Foundation, we choose to be very specific. We want to get something started and keep it going. We like that focus."
This is the largest grant the Parks Foundation has made since contributing several substantial initial gifts shortly after Fred Parks passed away at the age of 95 in 2001. The Parks Foundation has funded projects at Texas Heart Institute and South Texas School of Law, among others.
Mr. Parks was a noted attorney in Houston for more than 50 years. His wife, Mabel Roberson Parks, was a homemaker who passed away in 1998. The trustees of their foundation have held true to its original focus by concentrating their support in the areas of health care and education.
"Fred Parks had a brilliant mind," McClellan said. "He was a combat intelligence officer with the United States Air Force. He was a famous plaintiff lawyer, a wine enthusiast and an avid golfer. Mabel was a champion for Texas Children's Hospital."
In naming the DRI's Cell Supply Center, Fred and Mabel R. Parks will forever be tied to the search for a cure for diabetes.
McClellan added, "For me, a light went off after learning about the Institute's development of a mini-organ. DRI scientists have already made progress. They've already implanted islet cells. They've had much success, and I have confidence that this research could lead to the cure."
The Diabetes Research Institute leads the world in cure-focused research. As the largest and most comprehensive research center dedicated to curing diabetes, the DRI is aggressively working to shrink the timeline toward the discovery of a biological cure for this disease. Having already shown that diabetes can be reversed through islet transplantation, the DRI is building upon these promising outcomes by bridging cell-based therapies with emerging technologies. The Diabetes Research Institute was created for one reason – to cure diabetes – which is and will continue to be its singular focus until that goal is reached. For the millions of people affected by diabetes, the DRI is the best hope for a cure. For more information, call 1-800-321-3437 or visit DiabetesResearch.org.
SOURCE Diabetes Research Institute Foundation