Dr. Alberto Kousuke De la Herrán-Arita
Have you ever heard about Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder caused by the brain's inability to regulate sleep-wake transitions. Symptoms include permanent sleepiness and fatigue, unsynchronized patterns of sleep along with hallucinations. The United States is the leading country with patients suffering from narcolepsy Canada follows in second place and Mexico in third (1,2).
Stanford University has one of the best and well-recognized centers in the world that investigates and provides treatment to patients with narcolepsy. The “Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine” was the first medical clinic ever established to specialize in sleep disorders, and its current director, Dr. Emmanuel Mignot, who is known internationally for discovering the cause of narcolepsy, leads one of the biggest research groups in the world.
Here you will find the youngest postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University, Dr. Alberto Kousuke De la Herrán-Arita or “Beto” as he prefers to be called by his friends.
Dr. De la Herrán-Arita was born and raised in Culiacán, in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico. His interest in science began when he was very young as he explains, “I became interested in science ever since I watched the TV series ‘Cosmos’. I remember sitting next to my parents, listening to ‘Carl Sagan’ lucidly explaining different topics like Einstein’s theory of relativity, Darwin’s theory of evolution, and several other mysteries of Science.”
While he was growing up, Dr. De la Herrán-Arita encountered a very difficult challenge, the lack of research opportunities in Mexico. He remembers, “The only difficulty I encountered during college was getting myself involved in scientific research. Where I come from (Sinaloa), scientific research was practically unavailable (at least in the natural sciences). Fortunately, scientific research is becoming less centralized in Mexico, and several new research facilities are being created all over the country. However, scientific research is still underfinanced in Mexico, as less than 1% of the GDP is destined to science.”
As an enthusiastic teenager, Dr. De la Herrán-Arita paved his way in medicine; at the age of 16 he attended the Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa, (Autonomous University of Sinaloa). Being the youngest student of his class, “Beto” never felt intimidated and was determined to find all the resources available to get involved into scientific research.
After completing medicine, he interned for a year in the laboratory of Dr. René Drucker-Colín at the Institute of Cellular Physiology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. In this laboratory they study the neurophysiology of sleep, among other neurodegenerative diseases. His dedication and passion for science, especially his interest in investigating neurodegenerative diseases such as narcolepsy, lead him to pursue a PhD in Biomedical Sciences at the same institution.
While he was working in his PhD, he created a transgenic mouse model that mimics narcolepsy. He found that mice lacking the helix-loop-helix transcription factor O/E3 results in a decrease of an essential neurotransmitter called “hypocretin” (a.k.a., orexin) in the lateral hypothalamus, resulting in a narcoleptic phenotype in mice. This finding got his research into the cover of the Neuroscience journal. Nonetheless, this is not his only achievement he also was given honorable mention for completing his doctoral degree in the shortest amount of time (3 years) with 8 publications and 2 book chapters. He was granted several awards, amongst them the “Premio al Mérito Juvenil 2012“ (Congressional Youth Achievement Award) on Academy, Science & Technology given by the state of Sinaloa, Mexico.
After completing his doctorate, Dr. De la Herrán-Arita continued to be fascinated by neurodegenerative diseases and wanted to study the autoimmune basis of narcolepsy. He shares, “Neurodegeneration and autoimmunity are [two] fields that are constantly evolving and changing course, always incorporating knowledge from other different areas.” He we was able to join the laboratory of Dr. Emmanuel Mignot at Stanford University as he recalls, “I always fancied joining Dr. Emmanuel Mignot’s group, they’re the A-team in narcolepsy research and autoimmunity. Working with them is a really challenging and amusing experience; they work really hard and party like rock stars!” It is important to note that although Dr. De la Herrán-Arita has attained a respectable status in science he enjoys what life offers outside of his laboratory. Some activities he takes pleasure in are martial arts, hiking, bouldering, long boarding and paintball, without forgetting his passion for science all the time.
Now as a postdoctoral scholar, his work just got accepted by one of the most recognized journals, Science. His work will be published in the upcoming months. Due to his dedication, hard work and extensive knowledge he was awarded the 2013 Dean’s award from Stanford University leading him to be the “only” Mexican to receive this award in the entire academic history.
Dr. De la Herrán-Arita’s dream is to launch an Institute dedicated to neurodegenerative diseases in his beloved Culiacan, with hopes to investigate, prevent and provide treatment to patients suffering from such illnesses.
There is no doubt Dr. De la Herrán-Arita is an inspiration of what can be accomplished through hard work and passion.
1. What is Narcolepsy, National Institute of Health (NIH).
2. Statistic by Country for Narcolepsy. Right Diagnosis.