Research at Notre Dame aims to simplify life for Type-1 diabetics

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Type-1 diabetes affects 1.6 million people in America.

The disease affects the body's production of insulin, a hormone that transfers blood sugar, or glucose, into the bloodstream, providing energy. Without insulin, the body's blood sugar can reach dangerously high levels, which can lead to coma or death. This can be managed with insulin injections or an insulin pump-- but if blood sugar levels are too low, this can prove fatal. 

It's a delicate balance; managing type-1 diabetes can require around the clock monitoring.

“Controlling blood sugar is kind of the central goal of treating type-1 diabetes,” said Matt Webber, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Notre Dame. “Maintaining glucose within a sweet spot is really a bit of a challenge that I think I’ve been called to.”

Webber has been studying diabetes for years, and now, is trying to make the balancing act more of a straightforward path. 

“We’re pursuing better technologies that offer better treatment options," Webber said. "Better blood glucose-blood sugar control. Blood sugar that doesn’t go too high, too low, is maintained in a normal range without a lot of involvement from the individual.”

According to Webber, there are automated monitoring systems that can administer insulin or glucose when needed.

But:

“There’s still a little bit of guesswork, a little bit of learning that is required of those, a little bit of lag in terms of the data that you take in and the dose that you provide,” according to Webber.

While those systems are still a great leap forward in managing type-1 diabetes, Webber is working to create technology that can allow diabetics to live with less worry, at Notre Dame. 

“If we could make the technology a little smarter, we could remove some of that decision making and some of that guesswork from the individual and allow them to live their lives,” he said.

This research is still in its preliminary stages, though Webber says the current data shows promise, and may one day improve the lives of type-1 diabetics. 

“We hope that our research will raise optimism for people that better therapies are coming," he said. "We’re aware that technologies are getting better and we want to continue to innovate and develop new things that can continue the standard of care.”

Webber says this process could still take years before the technology could be used clinically, but with continued success-- the lives of type-1 diabetics could be changed for decades to come.


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