How a Family Business Has Buoyed the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI)

A company that makes plastic bottles may not be the most obvious link to diabetes treatment research, but in fact, a family business has a 25-year history of supporting the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) in Miami. In fact, much of DRI’s work is supported by Biorep Technologies, which runs a family affected by diabetes, manufacturing essential equipment for the diabetes research community.

How a Family Business Has Buoyed the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI)

Biorep is actually a subsidiary of the original plastic bottle company created by Florida’s diabetic father, Ramon Po (pronounced Poe), and is now one of the world’s leading medical equipment suppliers. You may be intrigued to learn that an important piece of equipment created and used by this company by DRI (and in research on islands around the world) appeared on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy a few years ago.

The connection to DRI was supported by Poo’s daughter, Christina, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 3 in the mid-1970s. Shortly after her diagnosis, Ramon and his wife, Tina, found Emerging Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) as a way to harness hope. The institute had just started in 1971 at the University of Miami.

In the years since, the nonprofit has grown into an international network of scientific and research centers, and Biorep has been an integral part of its history for the past quarter century.

“We try to do everything we can to help,” says Poe. “DRI is a unifying force that is facilitating some promising research and simplifying and standardizing protocols in the use of this equipment.”

The BioHub and beyond

As many of us who follow diabetes research know, DRI has established itself as a world leader in the field and promises to find a cure for type 1 diabetes for the foreseeable future.

In recent years, the institute has placed great emphasis on carrot packaging technology and related sciences for “biological therapy”. For the past few years, this project has been referred to as BioHub, a biologically engineered “mini organ” that mimics the original pancreas and has insulin-producing cells inside that can function for the long term.

As work continues and various BioHub ‘platforms’ are tested in preclinical and clinical studies, DRI researchers are also broadly focused on developing strategies to eliminate the need for anti-rejection drugs, stop the autoimmune attack that causes the onset of the disease and develop a limitless system. number of cells productive for insulin. And in mid-2019, the DRI highlighted important research showing that many adults with disabilities who underwent islet transplants went without insulin – for between 7 and 16 years!

All of this has shown that DRI is one of the major players in the field of diabetes treatment research over the years. But remember that in the mid-1970s, the acronym DRI was still in its infancy trying to find a foothold.

New parents D-Ramon and Tina loved what they saw at the young DRI institute in South Florida, and after a meeting with Dr. Daniel H. Mintz (who has since retired but is serving as principal DRI scientist emeritus), the couple sang to help raise money to transform DRI’s research to treat diabetes.

But Dr. Mintz also mentioned that the Direct Penetration Institute was having trouble getting the right equipment for its research.

As an engineer by profession and owner of a Miami-based plastic bottle manufacturer called Altira, Poe knew he could do more to help DRI in this area.

They initially helped with the manufacturing, but it wasn’t long before Poo decided they needed to separate these efforts from the plastic bottle business. They founded Biorep in 1994, as a free engineering partner helping with DRI. Over time, that developed beyond South Florida and in areas other than diabetes.

Inventing equipment for islet cell encapsulation

DRI’s current director and chief scientist, Dr. Camilo Ricordi, was still working in Pittsburgh in the 1980s when Poe remembers meeting there to discuss his vision: encapsulating carrots. They did some sketches and got to work, eventually Dr. Ricordi joined DRI and moved to Miami in the 1990s. BioRep’s original manufacturing approach was on two kits used to isolate islet cells from the pancreas. , now called Ricordi Isolator and Ricordi Chamber.

Ricordi Isolator and Chamber: Produced by hand in the machine shop in very small quantities, originally from stainless steel, but it was difficult to shake during the islet isolation process and did not allow for visual analysis of the process, so they switched to a transparent injection. -High temperature molded reusable plastic for sterilization. As a result of this shift from metal to plastic, Biorep has also been able to move towards mass production and reduce costs. This is now used worldwide in the islet cell space for diabetes research.

Oxygen Sandwich Petri Dish: – Another research technology jointly developed by DRI and BioRep is a silicone membrane Petri dish. While a standard plastic dish allows oxygen from the top, the DRI scientists wanted to test a dish that would allow oxygen to leak from the top and bottom. This silicone mixture improved oxygen permeability and the design was called “Oxygen Sandwich” because it coats the cells with oxygen on both sides.

Glucose and Cell Testers: The Biorep perfusion system is a machine that was developed to allow different materials to be placed in different chambers and exposed to different types of glucose. This is used in efforts to create different drugs to mimic what the pancreas and islet cells do. It was used primarily to test pancreatic islets in vitro, solving two main challenges in the analysis of cell secretion: throughput (by measuring potency rate) and repeatability (allowing successive measurements under the same conditions). In particular, Poo tells us that the global company Nestlé has already purchased this machine to test the effects of its products on the body.

“Being able to think of something or a new concept and being able to work with an engineer to transform that and create a solution is a dream come true for any scientist,” Dr. Ricordi said in a DRI video about the foundation’s work. with BioRep.


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