Working for a Cure
Larry Soler, JD ’95, was on track. A recent college graduate with a promising job as a lobbyist for a trade association, Mr. Soler was set to start law school at GW Law’s evening program when he was shaken by his diagnosis with type 1 diabetes. Although Mr. Soler had a chronic disease to add to his already impressive workload, he chose to follow his intended path. For the next four years, he worked full time and earned his law degree, learning to incorporate diabetes into his busy and demanding schedule.
Today Mr. Soler is using his education to help find a cure for the disease he lives with every day. Mr. Soler is an executive with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the leading charitable funder and advocate of type 1 diabetes research worldwide. Type 1 diabetes, which is most often diagnosed in childhood and adolescence, is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. Those who have it are dependent on injected or pumped insulin for life. As executive vice president for the government relations and operations group of the JDRF, Mr. Soler oversees the government relations and information technology departments as well as the JDRF Artificial Pancreas Project, a prototype for type 1 diabetes patients that regulates the proper amount of insulin delivery at the proper time to maintain blood sugar levels. In addition, Mr. Soler heads the foundation’s international development programs and legal affairs.
What started out as a volunteer opportunity for the local D.C. chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation has now turned into Mr. Soler’s career passion. After eight years working for the Association of American Universities, Mr. Soler decided to join the JDRF full time. While he shied away from legal sector jobs early in his career, Mr. Soler, who has been at the JDRF for 12 years, says he is now using the skills and background of his legal education. “My experiences gained in law school are coming back a little bit later,” he says. “Now in my current position, I appreciate the experience and my degree more and more.”
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation has become increasingly visible in the public spectrum recently, most importantly in the context of President Barack Obama’s decision to reverse limitations of federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Mr. Soler, who was at the White House when President Obama signed the order into effect on March 9, 2009, is confident that this decision will have a significant impact on the ability to find a cure. “Being there at the White House was like seeing 10 years of work finally finished,” Mr. Soler says, referring to the 10 years he was a leader in the national effort to expand stem cell research policy. “It was like trying to find a cure with one hand tied behind our backs. Now we can use both hands,” he says. “You can get more done with both hands.”
Since the JDRF was founded in 1970 by parents of children with juvenile diabetes, the foundation has awarded more than $1.3 billion to type 1 diabetes research, including $156 million in fiscal year 2008. Mr. Soler attributes the JDRF’s success in type 1 diabetes research to its strong backbone of volunteers. “Many volunteers have a personal connection to type 1 diabetes, and their combined passion and enthusiasm for the cause is a great resource,” he says, adding that he started out as a volunteer, too.
As he continues his work with the foundation, Mr. Soler says he is proud to be using his law degree to serve a cause he truly believes in. “A lot of students say that public service is something they want to do when they enter law school, except when loans build up, it is more likely that those students will go into corporate law,” he says. “I encourage today’s law students to keep an open mind, to keep that initial feeling of wanting to help people.
“There is a lot to life,” Mr. Soler adds, “and looking back and being proud of what you have accomplished, there is nothing as good as that.”