Q&A: David Winkler, Chair, PDRC Leadership Council

David Winkler

To get to know individuals who are essential to the PDRC, we present a series of interviews with the researchers, doctors, leadership, and supporters who comprise the core of our collaborative excellence. Our first conversation is with David J. Winkler, inaugural chair of the PDRC Leadership Council.

The PDRC Leadership Council is a group of community leaders whose families have been affected by type 1 diabetes, and which provides oversight and guidance to the PDRC's academic leadership. Mr. Winkler has been a tireless advocate for diabetes research in San Diego and beyond, practicing an active philanthropy that achieves significant results.

How did you become involved in the diabetes community?

With several family members affected by diabetes, including me from age 6, I planned to pursue a career in diabetes research. My studies led me to other ventures, but I never lost the desire to end this disease and help others deal more effectively with a diagnosis and treatment.

After working for decades with the ADA, JDRF and the Whittier Institute, it became clear that our region needs a state-of-the-art, vertically integrated, diabetes center with top researchers, clinicians and staff. UCSD embraced the concept.

What is your vision for the Pediatric Diabetes Research Center?

The PDRC's mission and vision statements summarize my goals which include prevention of diabetes, a cure, and enhancing the quality of life for diabetics. These goals will be achieved with PDRC's focus on basic and clinical research, as well as clinical care, all in one new facility.

We are working to enlarge our team with the highest caliber researchers, clinicians and staff to become the leading diabetes center in the United States.

What kind of advice do you have for someone who wants to make a difference in diabetes research and care?

I strongly encourage investment of one's time and money in organizations like the PDRC. If not as a researcher, then as a donor of time and funds.

What are the biggest challenges facing individuals who want to make a difference in diabetes research and care?

The most significant challenge is not to be frustrated by the pace at which research proceeds. A hypothesis must first be tested by gathering data. Donated or grant funds are needed to continue the research in well equipped facilities. The research must be reproducible and scaled up from animals to humans in preliminary clinical trials. Additional clinical trials must then be conducted.

With FDA approval, the biological or new medical device may be prescribed for human use. The process is very time consuming and capital intensive, but we must find a cure.

What do you find most inspiring in the diabetes world?

I am inspired by the enthusiasm and altruism of dedicated researchers and clinicians. They are committed to having a significant impact on diabetics' lives.

Individuals and families with a newly diagnosed diabetic are often overwhelmed. As they become educated and involved, they adjust to a new routine and stabilize their family member's life. I am inspired by their ability to cope with diabetes and move forward.

Volunteers and donors inspire me to keep fighting and asking others to join the quest. For example, one of our Leadership Council members is losing a parent to type 1 diabetes. She has several other family members with the disease. With diabetes all around her, she is working to eradicate the disease.

From your experience living with diabetes for 50 years, what are the common misconceptions that people have?

One misconception is that diabetics are handicapped and prevented from participating in certain activities and professions. I know of pilots, mountain climbers and scuba divers with diabetes. Nothing should hold back a diabetic who is under good control. The Americans with Disabilities Act has helped.

Some diabetics falsely believe others will discriminate against them. There are very successful individuals who won't talk about their diabetes believing their reputations will be injured. This belief is unwarranted and unfounded.

Another misconception involves the assumption that type 1 and type 2 diabetes are the same. People have said, "All you need to do is exercise more and lose weight and you can get rid of diabetes." I then inform them about the autoimmune attack on the beta cells of a type 1 diabetic, and that no cure presently exists.

What are the most significant advances in diabetes research in your lifetime?

I became a diabetic during the stone age, in 1959. I literally had to sharpen long, low gauge needles with a stone. Syringes had to be boiled. Urine tests were used to attempt to determine blood glucose levels. I injected animal derived NPH insulin once a day.

Today, we have ultra-sharp, short, disposable syringes and insulin pumps; genetically engineered, fast acting and basal insulin; and home blood glucose monitoring. Very importantly, continuous glucose monitoring ("CGM") is available. CGMs test blood glucose 288 times per day. The slope of the curve allows one to adjust insulin or glucose intake before a problem occurs, virtually eliminating hyper- and hypoglycemia.

Do you have anything more to add specifically for families whose children, or they themselves have been newly diagnosed with type 1?

I encourage newly diagnosed diabetics to learn as much as possible about the disease and to utilize current technology to optimize management. Participation in support groups is also advised along with talking to others who have been down the road. Parents with a newly diagnosed child need to know their lives will return to a new normal.

I believe there will be a cure in my lifetime, but only if we make it happen. Cuts in government funding make raising funds for researchers and new facilities that much more important. Most grants do not cover construction of laboratories, or gathering initial data which can then be used to formulate a grant application. Even small donations are important. Collectively, we will have a tremendous impact.

How does the PDRC fit in with your vision?

It fits perfectly. The PDRC is expanding to become the best diabetes center in the United States. Of course, I wish it was happening faster. There are significant advantages being associated with an institution of UCSD's quality including the high caliber of research and clinical care. The interdisciplinary relationships between departments such as biology, chemistry, and engineering are also impressive.

The PDRC currently has 10 principal investigators (basic researchers) and 10 medical doctors. We are conducting basic and clinical research and providing excellent clinical care at Rady Children's Hospital. The PDRC will continue growing and relocate to a larger facility. This is a fantastic effort.

I encourage anyone affected by diabetes to get involved with the PDRC.​