Professor to Develop App for Diabetes Management

Bree Holtz started college wanting to direct music videos. Today, the ComArtSci alum is changing lives through research and app development in the field of telemedicine.

​In early 2016, the MSU assistant professor in ComArtSci received a half-million dollar grant from the American Diabetes Association to create a cell phone app that enables adolescents with Type-1 diabetes to transition to self-management.

​"This app is meant to bridge communications and build trust during a critical time for parents and adolescents living with Type 1 diabetes," says Holtz, who has a dual appointment with the Department of Advertising and Public Relations and the Department of Media and Information. "An app like this can help reduce conflict during a time when parents and teens need to stay in tight communication."

​The unique phone-based app will teach 10- to 15-year-olds how to manage their diabetes and effectively communicate with their parents. A complementing parent-facing app provides the ability for parents to provide positive feedback and communicate with their child about diabetes management. For instance, parents can give a "thumbs up" in response to notifications that their child tested their blood sugar and entered their numbers.​

​"The focus isn't so much on constantly asking, 'What's your number?' or 'Have you tested?' as much as to provide supportive messages in response to their child's self-management," Holtz says. "And in cases when a child's levels are too high or too low, the app will alert parents so proper measures can be taken."

​Holtz says that about 20 out of 100,000 children under age 10 and 19 out of 100,000 adolescents 10 to 19 years of age will be diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes each year. She adds that the ADA recommends the gradual transition to self-management during middle and high school years, and that the effective transition can offset prolonged or serious health consequences.

​"Dr. Holtz is passionate about this research and I know the grant will make a difference in these families' lives," says Prabu David, dean of the MSU ComArtSci. "The research done by our ComArtSci staff creates new breakthroughs daily for many different communities, and I am confident this project will do wonderful things for the Type-1 diabetes community."​

​The three-year $590,544 grant from the ADA will support development, testing and launch of the app. Holtz is also looking to develop a portfolio of apps and games to enhance communication in various health arenas.

​Holtz’s team consists of specialists in the field of diabetes and communication and includes Shelia Cotten, Ph.D., Denise Hershey, Ph.D., RN, FNP-BC, Amanda Holmstrom, Ph.D., Amol Pavangadkar, M.B.A., M.A. and Katharine Murray, M.A., from MSU; Julie Dunneback, MSN, APRN, BC, CPNP, CDE, and Arpita Vyas, M.D., from Sparrow Health Systems; Michael Wood, M.D., from the University of Michigan Medical School; and Joshua Richman, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

​Holtz holds a bachelor's in telecommunications and a doctorate in media and information studies from MSU, as well as her master's in information systems from the London School of Economics.