For Dr. Andrew Advani, the inspiration behind his life’s work can be found in the stories told by young people with diabetes.

“There’s nothing that keeps us more motivated in the basic science lab than spending time with young people with diabetes and listening to their experiences,” he says.

Advani has dedicated his 20-year career to diabetes research, focused mostly on the biology of the disease and improving the lives of young patients living with it. For him, discoveries in the lab have a direct link to his young patients’ lives. For Research Month, Advani is taking viewers through his basic science lab at the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science. Watch the video or read more to find out how he hopes his research into organ injury and repair breaks down barriers.

What do you do at your lab at the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science?

Advani: At my lab, we research diabetes. Diabetes happens when sugar levels in the blood are too high. When the sugar levels in your blood are too high for too long, it can cause long-term damage to your body like kidney disease and heart disease.

That long-term damage is called complications, and in my lab we’re looking for new treatments for diabetes complications.

Why did you decide to study diabetes?

Advani: I fell into diabetes by accident. I was originally going to research the causes of heart disease, and diabetes is a major cause of heart disease. This was about 20 years ago.

When I was doing my PhD looking at how diabetes causes heart disease in people, I got really interested at the idea that diabetes affecting a person’s everyday experience really sits an intersection of what I call the biomedical and the social.

And so I fell in love with researching and providing care for people with diabetes 20 years ago, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

How does your work as a clinician inform your research, and vice versa?

Advani: In my clinic I look after people with diabetes – primarily young people living with Type 1 diabetes – and after a long day in clinic, talking to people about how diabetes affects their daily lives, there’s nothing more motivating than coming across to the lab, peering down the microscope and trying to figure out new ways of helping those people in their daily lives.

Have any of the discoveries you’ve made at this lab been used on patients?

Advani: A lot of what we do in the lab is called fundamental research or basic science. That takes a long time to impact patients. Sometimes what happens is a therapy gets developed for lowering sugar levels in people with diabetes and it’s found accidentally in clinical trials to have beneficial effects, like protecting against heart disease and kidney disease.

In our lab we try and explore those what we call sugar lowering-independent effects of some of those therapies, so people can figure out why the medications that’re using are having the beneficial effects.

Some of the other experiments we’re doing really are at the very early stage. That’s what’s called fundamental research and that takes a long time to affect patients. But it’s very important that we support this kind of research because most of the beneficial treatments that we are using today actually came from fundamental research.

While we know that this is going to take a long time to benefit patients, we also know that my patients are living with diabetes today. So another thing we’re doing in one of our other themes within our research program is exploring the experience of living with diabetes every day, so that we can try and help people live with diabetes now and in the future.

What’s special about research on organ injury and repair at St. Michael’s?

Advani: What I really like about organ injury and repair research at St. Michael’s is the fact that it’s translational and it’s a really great way of crossing the gap between disciplines that are typically silo’ed, so we can break down those barriers, and for example, research basic science and the experience of living with diabetes.

By: Talar Baboudjian Stockton, Marlene Leung and Ana Gajic