End To Finger Pricks? Device Tracks Blood Sugar And Dispenses Insulin, Freeing Diabetics Of Scheduled Readings And Injections


An end to finger pricks? By next year, the type 1 diabetic could be free of blood sampling several times a days and scheduled insulin injections. Cambridge University researchers have come up with a device to “close the loop” and combine both tasks.

Putting an end to finger pricks and compensating for a pancreas that produces little or no insulin, the device monitors the subject’s blood glucose levels and automatically adjusts the level of insulin entering his or her skin. This artificial pancreas would render obsolete existing glucometers used in conjunction with insulin injections following doctor-determined doses.

It is the joining of both functions in a “closed loop” system that creates an artificial pancreas, putting an end to finger pricks and regular injections. Dr. Roman Hovorka and Dr. Hood Thabit of the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, explain the innovative concept.

“In trials to date, users have been positive about how use of an artificial pancreas gives them ‘time off’ or a ‘holiday’ from their diabetes management, since the system is managing their blood sugar effectively without the need for constant monitoring by the user.”

Artificial pancreas
According to Techaeris, the artificial pancreas works by attaching one end of the device to a glucose monitor on the patient’s abdomen and the other end to the control unit somewhere on the user’s clothing. The control unit triggers off an insulin pump to sustain the patient with the correct amount of insulin, eliminating the need for scheduled finger pricks and shots of insulin.

The United States Food and Drug Administration is reviewing one of the proposed artificial pancreas models, with approval possible as early as 2017, signalling an end to finger pricks for diabetics. The U.K.’s National Institute of Health Research has determined 2018 as the likely year the device could appear on the British market.

MIT Technology Review reports that at the U.S. end, a prototype was developed by Dae-Hyeong Kim, assistant professor at Seoul National University and MC10 electronics resesearchers in Lexington, Massachusetts. The same group, two years earlier, prototyped a patch for Parkinson’s patients that diagnoses tremors and delivers drugs stored inside nanoparticles, a forerunner of the device that would spare diabetics their finger pricks and painful shots.

Signalling the end of frequent finger-pricks and drug injections for people with diabetes, the electronic skin patch of the artificial pancreas senses excess glucose in sweat and automatically administers drugs by heating up microneedles that penetrate the skin.

Diabetes warning on bus
While ultrasound and optical measurements to detect glucose levels are options to end the need for finger pricks, a variety of skin patches could deliver insulin. Thus the artificial pancreas system incorporates both detection and drug delivery in one loop.

A Nature Nanotechnology paper describes the patch to end finger pricks, as graphene studded with gold particles enabling sensors to detect humidity, glucose, pH, and temperature. Enzyme-based, the glucose sensors measure pH and temperature for accuracy of the glucose readings taken from sweat.

Ushering the end of a practice whereby diabetics torture themselves with finger pricks, insulin delivery is being promoted by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, via a fingernail-size patch with more than 100 microneedles using tiny sacs of insulin and an enzyme. While glucose in the blood permeates the sac, the enzyme converts the glucose into an acid that opens the sac. Thus insulin is released as minuscule needles penetrate the skin.

Doling out insulin when needed, the MC10 electronic platform could also store data on drug delivery activity and transmit it to a wearable device. Wirelessly transmitting the data to a smartphone at the receiving end is a considerable leap forward from the days of glucometers requiring finger pricks.

According to Science Alert, type 1 diabetics have had to rely on two separate devices toward the desired end of being healthy. Testing for glucose levels entails finger pricks, and injecting the correct dose of insulin is just another inconvenience. The one closed system of the artificial pancreas constitutes progress.

The end result of intense research is a monitoring device that does not require finger pricks. Simultaneously, the same device adjusts the diabetic’s blood sugar levels, dispensing with a whole bunch of equipment once needed for these tasks.

Type 1 diabetes sufferers end up living fuller lives, without the pain of finger pricks and the human error often associated with injecting too much or too little insulin. The artificial pancreas also overrides the need for transplanting new beta cells (insulin-producing cells in the pancreas) into diabetics. Also a transplant surgery would place too much of a burden on patients’ immune systems anyway.

Would diabetics appreciate an end to finger pricks? A pointless question, of course.

[Photo by Rick Gershon/Getty Images]