Dr. Owen Chan received his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto where he studied the effects of type 1 diabetes on the neuroendocrine response to hypoglycemia under the mentorship of the late Dr. Mladen Vranic. He then completed his post-doctoral training with Dr. Robert Sherwin and was appointed Assistant Professor at Yale University where he studied how the brain senses hypoglycemia. Dr. Chan then moved to the University of Utah as an Associate Professor where his current research focuses on defining and understanding the complex neural networks that are involved in hypoglycemia detection, how these mechanisms are impacted by diabetes and on evaluating therapies to help improve awareness of hypoglycemia.
Why did you decide to become involved in type 1 diabetes research?
I became involved in type 1 diabetes research because my younger sister was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 10 years old. Over the years, I saw the challenges that she faced with managing her blood sugars and especially her personal struggles with “lows” or hypoglycemia. I wanted to get involved to help find a solution that would make her life, and others with type 1 diabetes, easier to manage.
As a researcher, what are you most proud of?
As a researcher, I am most proud of the people that I have had the opportunity to work with and the contributions that we have made towards the understanding of why T1D patients lose their ability to recognize when their blood sugars fall. This knowledge base has led to us now testing some potential therapies that may help improve their ability sense lows. My hope is that such treatments will help improve the quality of life for T1D patients by removing one more hurdle in their daily glucose management.
What is the greatest challenge you face in your research?
The greatest challenge in research is always finding that balance between work and home life. In research, there is always pressure to search for funding, to publish and to push the envelope with innovative new ideas which keeps you constantly thinking about your research. To be able to step out of that mode when you are outside of the lab can sometimes be challenging, but something that is necessary when you are spending time with family and loved ones.
What do you appreciate most about working with JDRF?
What I appreciate most about working with the JDRF is the people. Their drive and enthusiasm to find a cure for T1D and the closeness they exhibit in their support for one another is truly inspiring.
As a close friend of our local JDRF chapter, what can we do to help you in your research?
The local Mountain Valley chapter of the JDRF has always been a strong advocate for the research that is done at the University of Utah and that continued support is invaluable as we continue the fight against T1D.
What would additional funding mean for your research?
Funding in research is important to not only important to help support the people who conduct the research, but it helps to nurture and grow new ideas. That is what the JDRF has been most helpful with – supporting new avenues of research that have led to a better understanding of T1D and the development of innovative new therapies.
What does a world without type 1 diabetes mean to you?
A world without T1D would mean the world to me. For myself, the research that I do is a personal journey and a personal promise to help make life better for those living with T1D.
What is your favorite 80s movie?
It would have to be a toss-up between four: The Empire Strikes Back, E.T., Terminator and Aliens. All of these movies have important underlying messages and each have been instrumental in re-defining the art of cinematography.