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Dr. El Ouaamari Traveled the World in the Name of Diabetes Research

From Morocco to France and Now the U.S., New Faculty Member Dr. El Ouamaari Brings His Expertise on Diabetes and Obesity Research to NYMC

May 22, 2023
Dr. Abdelfattah El Ouaamari in a suit standing in front of beakers in a lab
Abdelfattah El Ouaamari, Ph.D.

Dr. El Ouaamari was a research associate at Joslin Diabetes Center and an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School for almost a decade before becoming an assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers University prior to joining the College in December 2022.

Born and raised in Morocco, Dr. El Ouaamari’s passion for science started to blossom in high school when he studied life sciences. He thought he’d study to be a pharmacist in college, but his plans quickly changed his second year after exploring biochemistry. He decided to leave Morocco to attend Université Nice Sophia Antipolis in France, as a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry was unavailable in his country at that time. He earned a B.A. in biochemistry and an M.S. and Ph.D. in molecular biology. After college, he moved to the U.S. to have access to the best labs to study diabetes and obesity.

“My studies abroad were an enriching experience. I made many friends and learned new things about different cultures,” he said. “I was a different person back in France compared to when I was in Morocco — though I was a lot younger as well. The culture of the people around you change you. If I had to do it all over again, I would.”

He started to study diabetes in 2002 as an undergraduate student. He completed his internship at his university examining liver cells, pancreatic cells and adipose tissue cells. His research also involved understanding insulin resistance, where the body is unable to respond to the same amount of insulin as in normal physiological conditions.

Dr. El Ouaamari worked with in vitro cell research during his time abroad, which gave him the foundation of manipulating living cells. When he arrived in the States, he began working with in vivo systems and was able to see how the production of beta cells were impacted by other systems of the body, which led him to his latest research.

Securing seven grants for his diabetes research, Dr. El Ouaamari’s most recent grant is a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. For the last decade, his research centered on pancreatic beta cells.

For five years, Dr. El Ouaamari’s lab focused on understanding how the peripheral nervous system controls the growth and function of insulin-secreting beta cells in the pancreas and how it affects overall energy homeostasis, a combination of diabetes and obesity research. This research would allow scientists to modulate the nerves in the periphery, away from the brain, to modulate the number of functional beta cells in patients with type 1 diabetes, who lack the appropriate number of beta cells to break down sugar, and those with type 2 diabetes, whose body is unable to use insulin properly.

Dr. El Ouaamari is transitioning to obesity research, which is a major issue in the United States, where more than two thirds of adults are overweight or obese, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. In the future, he’d like to study behavior, given the increase in the prevalence of depression due to the COVID-19 pandemic and global economy.

When an opportunity opened at NYMC, Dr. El Ouaamari couldn’t resist. With the dedication of the College’s expert faculty members to the advancement of research in the fields of pancreatic beta cells and neuroscience, he knew that the College would afford him the tools and colleagues that would encourage different approaches to diabetes and obesity research.

“NYMC has so many great minds in diabetes research. There is so much opportunity for cross-departmental collaboration here without going outside the College,” said Dr. El Ouaamari. “The faculty here are fantastic and leaders in their respected fields.”

Dr. El Ouaamari is keen on educating and training a new generation of students and post doctorate professionals who will possibly explore diabetes research. He strives to give back to society as a mentor, just as he was trained by his dedicated advisors.

“Dr. El Ouaamari brings exciting research to our institution, investigating the roles of innervation of the pancreas on diabetes and obesity as well as sexual differences seen in these diseases,” said Joseph D. Etlinger, Ph.D., chair and professor of cell biology and anatomy and associate professor of medicine. “He will provide attractive research opportunities for our students and contribute to our teaching programs.”