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Families Tour Diabetes Research Institute for a "Dose of Hope"

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On Friday, February 17, several very excited families descended upon Miami for their highly-anticipated tour of the Diabetes Research Institute. Among them was the Billetdeaux familyLaura, Neal, Carolyn, Sam and his girlfriend, Grace Grande-Cassell, whose grandfather, a physician, has had type 1 for most of his life.

During the week leading up to their trip, Children with Diabetes' Laura Billetdeaux changed her Facebook profile pic to one of her with the DRI Foundation’s Barbara Singer and posted, “So excited to begin packing today for my trip to the DRI later this week. The tour - and meeting the scientists and seeing their work up close - is a Megadose Of Hope. And Belief. And re-accepting deep in my gut that there will be a cure.”

It was all that and more, especially for Sam, who saw the DRI for the first time.

“As I was telling Barbara a couple of months ago, when I toured the DRI three years ago with Jeff Hitchcock and Audrey Finkelstein, I came away knowing in my gut that this is where the cure was going to happen…I wanted to bring Sam and the rest of the family so they could experience this, too.”

Two other families joined the Billetdeauxs, including Donna and Bob Cope, whose daughter, Hunter, has type 1. Many families may be familiar with Hunter and her dog, Diva, the diabetes alert dog. Donna’s brother, Tom Brelsford conducts an annual fundraising dinner in CT to benefit the DRI.

Also visiting the DRI for the first time was the Espinosa family, Dan, Patty and their son, Josh, 8, who was diagnosed with type 1 at 22 months. Dan is a Walgreens manager who has been instrumental in the Walk with Walgreens walk-a-thon throughout the state of Florida that benefits the DRI. He’s been front and center in recruiting many families to participate in the event and a lead partner in helping to create the website.

Leading the tour was the DRI’s Gary Kleiman, executive director of medical development, who was joined by the DRI Foundation's Tom Karlya, vice president and “Diabetes Dad,” and Lori Weintraub, vice president of marketing and communications.

After visiting several labs and meeting a number of the DRI’s researchers, including Drs. Antonello Pileggi and Chris Fraker, and Midhat Abdulreda among others – and asking many questions along the way! – the group gathered for lunch, where Drs. Camillo Ricordi, Luca Inverardi and Norma Kenyon stopped in to say hello and answer even more.

The day’s visit left a lasting impression on everyone.

“From the entire Billetdeaux Family, many, many thanks for taking the time to tour us on Friday… I recently had been feeling the need to re-up my own ‘Dose of Hope.’ What we came away with was so much more than that. I saw a look on Sam’s face that I’ve never seen before – the absolute conviction that there will be a cure and this is the place it is going to happen. He so appreciated the time that each of the scientists took to speak with him and answer his questions,” Laura passed along to us.

It was the same for the Espinosas. “This was the most positive experience that I ever had. I was in awe and Josh loved it,” said Patty. “We are so grateful and thankful for everything that the DRI does to find a cure. As a mom of a child with diabetes, when you see these great minds, you are just wowed. They are our celebrities.”

To the Billetdeauxs, Copes, Espinosas, we thank you for taking the time to visit the DRI and for all of your support. And our thanks go to families everywhere who also support our efforts to find a cure for diabetes.

Are you planning to be in Miami? Email us if you would like to visit the DRI, too!

Touring the Diabetes Research Institute
First stop - Dr. Antonello Pileggi's lab to learn about the DRI's translational research approach and the work underway to protect islets from immune attack.

Then on to Dr. Chris Fraker's lab to learn about islet encapsulation.

Dr. Fraker, who has type 1 diabetes, speaks about the process of conformally-coating islet cells - like "shrink wrapping" - to protect them from the immune system.

Touring the Diabetes Research Institute
Josh Espinosa checks out conformally-coated cells under the microscope as his dad, Dan, looks on.

 Touring the Diabetes Research Institute
Sam Billetdeaux takes a peek at the cells...

 Touring the Diabetes Research Institute
...then it's Laura's turn.

Touring the Diabetes Research Institute
Sam and Neal spend some more time with Dr. Fraker.

Touring the Diabetes Research Institute
In the Tissue Engineering lab, they learned about the DRI's work in creating biohybrid devices to house insulin-producing cells. 

Touring the Diabetes Research Institute
Research Assistant Jessica Weaver shows the group one of the bioengineered scaffolds, which the researchers are using to create a "mini organ" that mimics the native pancreas.

Touring the Diabetes Research Institute
Laura and Sam with Dr. Norma Sue Kenyon.

Donna and Bob Cope with Dr. Kenyon. 

Touring the Diabetes Research Institute
Patty, Dan and Josh Espinosa with Dr. Kenyon.  

Touring the Diabetes Research Institute
The Billetdeaux family with Dr. Luca Inverardi.

Touring the Diabetes Research Institute
Laura gives Dr. Inverardi a big hug of thanks!

Touring the Diabetes Research Institute
The Espinosa family with Dr. Inverardi. 

Touring the Diabetes Research Institute
The Billetdeaux family with Dr. Camillo Ricordi. 

Touring the Diabetes Research Institute
The Espinosas with Dr. Camillo Ricordi.



Diabetes Research Institute Foundation
200 S. Park Road, Suite 100
Hollywood, FL 33021
[P]   (954) 964-4040
[TF] (800) 321-3437
[F]   (954) 964-7036

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