The Enduring Legacy of Samuel Rahbar, M.D., Ph.D.

Samuel Rahbar, M.D., Ph.D., made contributions to science that revolutionized diabetes research and care. The lives of patients around the world who are coping with diabetes have been radically enhanced by medicals tests and tools based on his research. With his seminal discovery in 1968 of increased glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) in people with diabetes, Dr. Rahbar’s research established HbA1c as one of the best markers of glycemic status. This marker was used to demonstrate that erratic blood sugar levels contribute to the progression of long-term diabetic complications. As a result, physicians and patients around the world use tools based on this marker to monitor and manage glycemic levels, which helps to prevent harmful complications. And HbA1c has become the gold standard for assessing the effectiveness of new diabetic therapies.

Dr. Rahbar’s breakthrough discovery of HbA1c opened the door to a completely new field of diabetes research. He was a true pioneer, and dedicated himself to basic and translational science founded upon his identification of glycated hemoglobin for the rest of his career.

An Early Passion for Research

Born in Iran in 1929, Dr. Rahbar received his medical degree in 1953 and his Ph.D. in immunology in 1963 from the University of Tehran. It was during a trip to Israel early in his post-graduate years to visit his brother, who was being treated for multiple myeloma, that Dr. Rahbar developed an intense interest in hemoglobin structure. While there, he attended a lecture given by Dr. Hermann Lehmann, a Cambridge researcher whom he admired. Afterward, Dr. Lehmann invited Dr. Rahbar to study hemoglobin variants with him in Cambridge over the course of a few summers, an offer Dr. Rahbar eagerly accepted. Dr. Rahbar then followed the advice of his new mentor to establish a research program to study hemoglobin variants in the distinct tribes of people living in Iran — an ideal setting in which to do genetic research in hemoglobins.

This early passion for hemoglobin research set the stage for Dr. Rahbar’s discovery of HbA1c, which he made while doing research at the University of Tehran. He continued this research briefly at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, with Helen Ramney, a leader in hemoglobin and sickle cell anemia. Dr. Rahbar then returned to Iran, where he was promoted to full professor at the University of Tehran.

Creating a Legacy at City of Hope
Later, in 1979, Dr. Rahbar joined City of Hope where, for more than thirty years, he continued to advance research in diabetes and its complications. At City of Hope, Dr. Rahbar held the position of distinguished professor of the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism. In recent years, Dr. Rahbar continued to make major contributions by developing several novel so-called “small molecule” inhibitors of advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs), which accumulate from high blood glucose and cause many diabetes-related complications. Today, City of Hope researchers continue Dr. Rahbar’s work in AGEs, which could ultimately lead to sorely needed new therapies for the debilitating complications of diabetes such as nerve damage in extremities and vision loss.

In 2012, Dr. Rahbar was recognized for his lifetime of scientific accomplishments by the American Diabetes Association. He was granted the prestigious Samuel Rahbar Outstanding Discovery Award, a one-time namesake award that recognizes exceptional leadership and outstanding career contributions. This award is one of the highest honors bestowed on diabetes researchers.

Throughout his life, Dr. Rahbar was dedicated to the pursuit of better treatments for patients coping with diabetes and its complications. His legacy of life-saving research will continue to improve the lives of people around the world for years to come.