Researchers in the UK have developed a skin patch that measures blood sugar levels without the prick of a needle by pulling fluid out from between hair follicles. The technology could be used for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients.

Diabetes is a major global health problem, with the World Health Organization stating 422 million were affected worldwide in 2014. The disease occurs either when the pancreas does not produce insulin (type 1 diabetes) or the body is not able to use its insulin properly (type 2 diabetes), which raises blood glucose levels. Diabetics rely on pricking their skin with a needle daily in order to monitor their blood sugar levels.

Researchers at the University of Bath have now developed a needle-free approach for blood sugar testing suitable for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The technology measures glucose levels in the interstitial fluid, which is found in between skin cells.

A patch placed on the skin applies a small electric field to pull the interstitial fluid up along hair follicles and into the device. Within the patch, the enzyme glucose oxidase — the same used for finger-pricking glucose testing — reacts with the glucose to produce hydrogen peroxide, which is detected by a graphene sensor. The whole process yields a blood glucose measurement within 15 minutes.

The skin patch can offer a high level of accuracy by individually measuring each hair follicle. This decreases the variability of measurements and removes the need to calibrate the patch with a finger-prick sample.

This new technology would be competing with a variety of  needle-free glucose monitoring devices that are already in development. For example, GlucoSense, based in London, is developing a device that can obtain measurements in less than 30 seconds. Integrity Applications, an Israeli company, has developed a needle-free glucose measuring device that is already available in Europe.

The researchers at the University of Batch state their next goals are to develop the technology to allow for continuous glucose monitoring over a 24 hour period and optimize its glucose sensors. However, the technology is still in its early stages and there is a long road ahead before the glucose monitoring patch could become an effective, low-cost alternative to other non-invasive glucose monitoring devices.


Images via University of Bath; L Lipani et al. (2018) Nature Nanotechnology

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