Scientists at Cardiff University’s School of Engineering have developed a blood glucose testing device that could spare diabetics the pain of traditional blood glucose monitoring. Currently, most diabetics have to test their blood glucose levels several times each day. Each time they test, they have to prick their skin to obtain a blood sample. Alternatively, they may use invasive inserted continuous blood glucose monitors (CGMs). No matter which method they use, however, the glucose monitors require a blood sample to perform each test.
That could become a thing of the past, however, if the university’s new monitor lives up to its claims. Namely, the ability to accurately test blood glucose without the pain of a blood sample, using a monitor that is adhered painlessly and discreetly to the skin.
“It will help with the management of the condition. Conventional methods of monitoring blood glucose require the extraction of blood. Our device is non-invasive – it does not require the extraction of blood apart from the initial calibration.”
As the BBC reports, this newly-developed blood glucose testing device is different from traditional monitors because rather than using repeated blood samples, it uses microwaves.
Professor Adrian Porch, who developed the blood glucose monitor along with Doctor Heungjae Choi, says that the monitor can be stuck to the side of the body or arm with an adhesive, and that it has a “longer shelf-life” than many traditional blood glucose testers, because it doesn’t require chemicals to produce accurate results.
The data gathered by the new testing device can be monitored continuously through a mobile device or computer app, making it perfect for diabetics who need to closely monitor their blood glucose patterns.
If you think that the idea of adhering a microwave-emitting blood glucose testing device to people’s bodies sounds off-putting, Professor Porch assures you that the level of microwave exposure related to the new device is incredibly low.
“It uses microwaves, but the levels are very, very low. Nowhere near the levels used in domestic cooking. Think about a mobile phone, we’re about a thousand times less than that level.”
At this point in the device’s development, human clinical trials are already underway. Indeed, roughly 50 trials are already either completed or in progress. The clinical trial research is being overseen by Professor Stephen Luzio of Swansea University’s College of Medicine, who expects to add more patients to the trial this summer. According to the professor, patients like the freedom and reduction of pain the new blood glucose monitor brings to their lives.
“Patients are very keen on this. One of the big problems with patients measuring their glucose is they don’t like pricking their finger, so there’s a lot of interest.”
According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 29 million Americans (over 9 percent of the population) suffered from diabetes in 2012, with 1.4 million new cases diagnosed annually. Of those afflicted by the disease, five to 10 percent are Type 1 diabetics that have to endure blood glucose testing repeatedly throughout the day, and often have since childhood.
All diabetes is characterized by blood glucose that is too high. Glucose is the primary sugar in the blood and the primary fuel for the cells. In order for the glucose in your blood to be fuel for your body’s cells, it must be carried to them by the hormone insulin (produced in the pancreas). When someone is diabetic, their body either doesn’t make enough insulin or their insulin doesn’t work properly, and as a result glucose builds up in the blood and doesn’t reach the cells. Over time, chronically high blood glucose (or diabetes) can cause major health problems. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
Type 2 diabetes most often develops later in life, around middle age or later, although it can occur at any time. Being overweight and/or being sedentary are often contributing factors to developing Type 2 diabetes. It is characterized by insulin resistance, which happens when the bodies cells don’t use insulin to carry glucose properly. As a result, more insulin is needed by the body in order for the insulin to enter its cells. Over time, a person’s pancreas can’t make enough insulin to combat high blood glucose levels (which often occur after eating or drinking alcohol or sugary drinks). When the pancreas can’t keep up with the body’s insulin demands, Type 2 diabetics must seek treatment to manage their blood glucose. Like Type 1 diabetics, Type 2 diabetics have to endure blood glucose testing several times per day, usually after meals. Type 2 diabetes can often be managed with lifestyle changes, but may require oral insulin or insulin injections.
Ultimately, Cardiff University’s microwave blood glucose testing device project, which began in 2008, could impact tens of millions of people in the United States alone. In addition to giving diabetics the ability to monitor their blood glucose levels in a more comprehensive manner, it could also help them to avoid pain and therefore enjoy a better quality of life.
According to the research and development team, the new blood glucose testing device is roughly five years away from being available to the public, depending upon future financial investment in the product.
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