Dr. Matthew Freeby, MD, an adult endocrinologist and the Hunter Eastman Scholar of Translational Diabetes Research, grew up in what he described as, “a small sleepy town in the cornfields outside of Davis, California.” He enjoyed the stability of living in a small community and the enrichment of being near a large university - the University of California at Davis. “I felt lucky,” recalled Dr. Freeby about his childhood.
Although he studied biology at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Dr. Freeby didn’t think about attending medical school until college was nearly over. “At various times I thought about being a history major, an agriculture major or even a business major,” he said. “Only at the end did I think about being a doctor.”
However, in 1996, instead of med school, Dr. Freeby chose to take a position in research and development at Cygnus, Inc., a medical technology company in Northern California that developed a non-invasive glucose monitoring system called the GlucoWatch. Dr. Freeby’s college roommate, who had type 1 diabetes, encouraged him to take the job, which turned out to be both a stimulating and pivotal part of his life.
“Cygnus was the forerunner of all of the Continuous Glucose Monitoring Systems (CGMS) on the market today,” said Dr. Freeby, who ran clinical tests in the US and Europe for the GlucoWatch. “It was the first version of what we’re using now.” The GlucoWatch ultimately had a short-lived shelf life because, as Dr. Freeby said, “It didn’t work. However, it got everyone thinking about continuous glucose monitoring and better system designs. It was an exciting time for diabetes technology and it gave me an incredible opportunity to do something I could not have done had I been in medical school.”
In 1998, Dr. Freeby entered the Virginia Commonwealth’s School of Medicine, and in 2002, he started his residency in general medicine at the University of California at San Diego. “Everything after medical school was pretty much endocrine-centric,” he said. “Then, after my first year as a resident, I got excited about anything diabetes related. It definitely started from the Cygnus experience and really snowballed when I was a resident.”
Next stop was Columbia University, where Dr. Freeby completed a fellowship in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism and immediately joined the clinical team at the Berrie Center. “I crossed Broadway from the fellowship office at Columbia to the Berrie Center,” said Dr. Freeby, recalling the first day of his new job.
Last year, Dr. Freeby, who is an assistant professor of Clinical Medicine at Columbia, was named the first Hunter Eastman Scholar of Translational Diabetes Research at the Berrie Center. “This scholarship helps foster the high level of collaboration that you need among basic and clinical researchers to make progress toward a cure for diabetes,” said Dr. Freeby. “I’m really excited to provide the clinical, patient-centered component of this research.”
Specifically, Dr. Freeby is working on a promising, and high-profile, stem cell research project at the Berrie Center with Co-directors Drs. Robin Goland and Rudy Leibel, along with Dr. Dieter Egli, PhD, who is well on his way toward creating viable patient-specific, insulin-producing beta cells using the skin cells from people with type 1 diabetes collected by Dr. Freeby.
He is also working on a project with Berrie Center Scientist Paul Harris, PhD, which measures the pancreatic beta cell mass of people with type 1 diabetes using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanning. This technology, originally developed to follow pathways in the brain, was retooled by Dr. Harris a decade ago to measure beta cell mass in people with type 1 diabetes.
On top of all of this, Dr. Freeby is also working on a project with research fellow Josh Miller focusing on the transition from adolescence to adulthood with diabetes. They are trying to identify risk factors and come up with better treatment plans for young people during this sensitive transition phase.
“I’ve been really lucky in terms of what I’ve been able to do at the Center,” said Dr. Freeby. “I had hoped to do patient care and maybe a little bit of research. Instead, I have fallen into a rich clinical environment and multiple, amazing research projects.”
Matthew Freeby, who just turned 40, lives in Washington Heights with his wife, Catherine Massey, the development director at NYC’s Foundation for Contemporary Arts and their son, William, an energetic 4-year-old.
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