People to Know 2019: Matthew Webber
Imagine an insulin formulation that changes potency based on blood glucose level. Imagine a glucagon injection that only activates when your glucose drops too low. These are the sorts of things Matthew Webber, PhD, thinks about when he considers the future of diabetes.
“For some, the standard of diabetes care is insufficient,” says Matthew, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. “We want to make life a little better for those people—reduce the burden of having to be constantly vigilant and the fear of making a mistake.”
Matthew has a passion for spotting challenging problems and tackling them head on. Take, for example, his past research into insulin that would become more potent when glucose levels rose and less potent when they dipped.
His latest project, funded by an American Diabetes Association Pathway to Stop Diabetes® grant, focuses on glucagon. When a person with diabetes has low blood glucose but is unable to eat or drink fast-acting carbohydrate (say, because he or she is unconscious), an injection of the hormone glucagon can bring levels back to normal. But that’s assuming someone else is nearby to deliver the injection.
Matthew envisions a better treatment. The glucagon would remain at the ready but in an inactive state until it sensed a drop in blood glucose, at which point it’d spring into action. “What that looks like, I don’t know yet,” he says, suggesting it could be an injection or even a wearable device.
The research is still in its infancy—it hinges on stable premixed glucagon, something that currently doesn’t exist—but in the future it could make a big difference in the lives of people with diabetes, especially those with frequent nighttime lows or people who don’t experience low blood glucose symptoms.
I praise Matthew for his forward thinking. Working at the Joslin Diabetes Center’s insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM) program, I’ve seen how medical technology can ease the burden of diabetes management and reduce the risk of poor outcomes.
“We want to improve the quality of life,” Matthew says. “If we can make smarter technology that people can trust, then maybe people can live their lives.”
Elena Toschi, MD, is an endocrinologist at the Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston.