Interview: Samantha Katz, DiabetesMine Design Challenge Judge


Samantha Katz is the Grand Prize winner of the 2009 DiabetesMine Design Challenge, and now Global Product Manager at Medtronic Diabetes, where she’s working on the company’s next-generation insulin pump.  In June 2009 she received an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management with majors in Marketing and Healthcare Enterprise Management, as well as a Master of Engineering Management with a major in Design from the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University.  This year she’s serving as a judge in the 2010 DiabetesMine Design Challenge, which is open for submissions until April 30, 2010.

Congratulations on being the last year’s DiabetesMine Challenge Grand Prize Winner.  Please tell us about your idea?  How did you come up with it?  Is there a diabetic in your family, or have you seen someone up close struggling with diabetes?

LifeCase/LifeApp is a combined hardware and software solution.  The hardware component is an iPhone case that contains an integrated blood glucose meter, as well as an integrated lancing device with test strip storage.  The software component is a concept for an iPhone app that controls the integrated meter as well as a pump and/or CGM device if they are used.  The app also contains an event log to track BGs, boluses, meals, and exercise, in addition to graphs that display historical sensor glucose.  The idea is that with this app you could do everything that you can do with today’s pumps and CGM devices, and theoretically it would work with any that are on the market.  Combining the meter, pump and/or CGM interface onto an iPhone and integrating a meter into the case allows users to carry just the single device, rather than juggle a separate meter, pump remote, and/or CGM remote.  In addition, moving the interface from the pump to an iPhone may mean that the pump can be made smaller, much like the patch pumps on the market today.

Samantha Katz

My teammate and I came up with the idea after considering many concepts.  We interviewed and observed people with diabetes to understand what their most critical needs were and then brainstormed ideas to meet these needs.  One of the individuals interviewed was my teammate’s mother, who is a type 1 and who kindly shared her challenges with diabetes with us.  We showed our initial set of concepts to additional people with diabetes to get their feedback, refined and narrowed down our ideas, and then repeated this process a couple more times until we landed on LifeCase/LifeApp.

Over the last year, have you made any progress in bringing LifeCase & LifeApp to fruition?

We did an initial patent search and found that Medtronic actually holds a key patent we would need to commercialize our concept.  This discovery, combined with the fact that my teammate and I were both finishing graduate school and starting new jobs, led to our decision to hold off on any further development.  Our goal was to enter and win the contest, and we were proud to have achieved it.

As a judge in the 2010 DiabetesMine Challenge, what kinds of things are you looking for?  (And btw – is it exciting to be a judge?)

I will answer the second question first.  I am thrilled to be a judge this year and see the exciting ideas that will be submitted!  I love problem solving and thinking about how we can make diabetes as minimally intrusive as possible, and it’s amazing to see how people from a wide variety of backgrounds tackle a common goal in different ways.  I was so flattered and excited when Amy Tenderich asked me to judge this year’s competition.

As a judge I am looking for three main things.  First, I need to see your passion for your idea.  Show me that you not only care about improving the lives of those with diabetes, but also that you truly believe in the viability of your idea.  Second, I need to see that you have done your homework.  The only way to believe in the viability of your idea is to test it.  Get feedback from people with diabetes, doctors, diabetes educators, and caregivers.  If you don’t know anyone personally, you could even approach a diabetes center or support group like we did.  And third, I am looking for professionalism and polish.  Show me that you have spent a lot of brain power thinking about and creating your submission.  Take the time to make your video into something that can be sent around to diabetes companies and investors after the competition.

You recently joined Medtronic’s development team and are working on the next-generation pump.  Can you tell us about that?  What can we expect to find in the up and coming pump that doesn’t exist in today’s?

I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to join Medtronic and help develop the next generation insulin pump.  In the next generation pump and other future products, you will notice features that are intuitive, simpler to use, adaptable to a user’s specific needs, and more comfortable.  Additionally, you will continue to see improved technology that leads to both improved clinical outcomes and a more convenient patient experience.  Clinical research has shown that combining the components of insulin delivery, continuous glucose monitoring, and therapy adjustment allows patients to tighten glucose control and achieve an optimal clinical outcome; so we will continue to focus on these combined elements.

Technological advances are very important and necessary, but so are advances in education – in helping people better understand diabetes, its causes, how to prevent it (in the case of type 2), and how to live a healthy life with it. Do you see a way of bringing technology and education together?

Absolutely.  Between the internet, applications on mobile devices, and cloud computing the possibilities are endless.  With these technologies people with diabetes can be constantly in touch with educational materials, their doctors, educators, and caregivers, and even each other to continuously build their knowledge base about therapy, share tips and best practices with each other, and maintain a safe and healthy lifestyle.  I see the application of technology going far beyond the pump features, communication methods, and websites that we have today.


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12 years ago

Dr. Katz, Why wouldn’t Medtronic at least develop an iPhone application immediately that would allow CGM users to receive outputs from the wireless transmitter and display them on my iPhone? I will soon be a CGM user, but not a pump user, and do not want to carry around and have to pull out the current receiver in the middle of business meetings, etc. Having a receiver app would solve a lot of issues for me, and could store the records of easy analysis and sharing with my doctor. If Medtronic will not do this, could I build the app?… Read more »

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