In some ways, Eli Bunzel, 23, is a typical patient at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, arriving for doctor visits, lab tests, and nutrition consultations.
But unlike most Berrie patients, Eli has stepped behind the center’s exam rooms and into its labs to help Berrie Center scientists search for better ways to treat the disease.
Eli was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 10 and recalls the excitement he felt during a tour of the center’s research laboratories. “I remember thinking it would be cool to work here,” Eli says.
During a summer in high school, Bunzel interned in the lab of Lori Zeltser, PhD, assistant professor of pathology & cell biology, who is investigating how a mother’s obesity during pregnancy increases the likelihood that her child may become overweight and develop type 2 diabetes. He later started his own project on how young adults make the transition from pediatric to adult care, data that helped the Berrie Center improve care for such patients. (Other Berrie patients also have conducted research at the center; read more in Columbia Medicine magazine).
“It’s much easier now to comprehend the long-term goals of the research—I was only in high school at the time—but it was still so interesting to see how science is applied to real-life questions, particularly those that affected me as a patient with diabetes,” Eli says.
Though he hasn’t returned to the Berrie Center labs, Eli is still active with the center. He helps out with fundraisers, volunteers as a counselor for the center’s summer camps, and speaks to newly diagnosed patients about his life with diabetes.
“I often speak on behalf of the center, but from the patient perspective. It’s especially helpful for new patients and their parents—who are confused and often scared—to hear from someone other than their endocrinologist that their lives will not be irreparably changed by this diagnosis.”
Last year Eli graduated from Hamilton College with a degree in biology and is now prepping for the MCAT and preparing his medical school applications. “My experiences at the Berrie Center has certainly impacted my decision to apply to medical school,” Eli says. “More than anything, I have seen the impact that genuine care and dedication to patients can have on a patient’s outlook on life.”