Alumni in Profile / Stephen Abreu -- At the intersection of business and science

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Stephen Abreu's college career changed when he met molecular biology professor Barry Bowman and began working in his lab. (Photograph by Heimo)

One day, stem-cell transplants may allow patients’ bodies to secrete in­sulin on their own, rendering insulin shots for diabetics obsolete.

If and when that happens, one of the people on the path to that pioneer­ing treatment will be Stephen Abreu, who received his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and his master’s in molecular biology from Kresge Col­lege in 1999 and 2003, respectively.

Abreu is an industry contracts man­ager for UC San Francisco’s famed Diabetes Center and Immune Toler­ance Network, where his job places him at the intersection of business and science.

The 6-foot-5 Abreu took a purpose­ful but zigzagging path to a job he envisioned more than a decade ago. Born into a working-class family, he came to UCSC on a $10,000 Academic Achievement Award created by then-chancellor Karl Pister. Intelligent but slightly adrift, the young man played basketball for UCSC’s men’s varsity team, chased girls, and worked at fast-food restaurants to make ends meet.

“While I loved science, I wasn’t the best student I could be,” he admits.

Then, Abreu met molecular biology professor Barry Bowman. Seeing the potential in the skinny, bright undergrad, Bowman helped him nab a grant from the Minority Biomedical Research Support program, admin­istered by the National Institutes of Health.

The grant allowed Abreu to leave behind his fast-food jobs for work in Bowman’s lab. Out of that grew a pas­sion for science and the first glimmers of his life’s work.

In the late 1990s, the dot-com world was booming and Abreu was fas­cinated by the multi-million-dollar contracts being hatched between business and science. After gradua­tion he went to work on Wall Street at a big investment firm. He spent two years in that fast-paced, cutthroat environment.

“Then I understood what money meant,” he says.

Abreu returned to UCSC and got his master’s degree working with cal­cium transport proteins, then earned his law degree at UC Davis, followed by a stint at a big legal firm in San Francisco.

Abreu said he is exactly where he wants to be now: helping science move from the lab into doctors’ hands. He helped close the $20 million deal that has UCSF scientists working with Novocell of San Diego to develop a stem-cell therapy for diabetes.

But Abreu, who is of Afro-Caribbean descent, hasn’t forgotten the role education played in his life. He is on UCSC’s Alumni Council, and has worked as an advocate for disadvan­taged youth who want to get into law school.

“UCSC was really a formative place,” says the recently married Abreu. “It was a place where I could find myself, where I could find my own way.