Weiwei Xu

After obtaining a bachelor's degree in Veterinary Medicine in China, I went to Tulane University in New Orleans, USA to pursue my Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences. I was in the group of Dr. Franck Mauvais-Jarvis, studying the effect of sex hormones, namely estrogens and androgens, in the pathogenesis and development of type 2 diabetes. My project in particular discovered the role of testosterone in stimulating the insulin-producing beta cells of the islet of Langerhans to produce more insulin. The research finding gives an explanation of the increased diabetes risk in middle-aged and older men with low testosterone levels or in prostate cancer patients who receive androgen deprivation therapy.

I moved to Munich after my Ph.D. studies and joined the lab of Dr. Heiko Lickert as a postdoctoral scientist to explore the therapies for type 1 diabetes treatment. Currently, there is no efficient way to treat type 1 diabetic patients besides insulin injection, which accompanies multiple complications. Of the two current strategies to address the disease, beta-cell replacement and regeneration, I am interested in regenerating beta cells by increasing either the beta-cell mass or its function using promising small molecules. However, many of these molecules are not specific to beta cells and will certainly affect other tissues and organs and generate undesired off-target effects. My current work studies beta cells, looking for their unique features, and explores the beta-cell specific approaches that especially bring the therapeutic molecules to our beta cells, making them healthier and produce more insulin. I hope that this research will lead to the development of new treatments for type 1 diabetic patients.

Besides my research activities, I am passionate about science communication, education, and outreach. I often participate in social events talking to people about the science and the medical advances in the diabetes field; I enjoy being the bridge between the science community and the public. Helmholtz offers me various training on science communication and project management and an internship with the Communication Department during this career development fellowship. I will take these experiences with me in my future career, gradually achieving my life goal to promote science education and equal access to healthcare information and resources.