Needle-Free Diabetes? European MedTech Inventions which Painlessly Measure Blood Glucose!
Will the daily routine of finger pricking to monitor blood glucose levels finally come to an end for the millions worldwide living with diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus is a chronic metabolic disease that affects over 422 million people worldwide. It is the major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attack and stroke. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers it an epidemic and predicts it will become the 7th biggest cause of death worldwide by 2030.
To monitor blood glucose levels, millions of diabetics have to test their blood sugar close to 10 times a day by pricking their finger with a lancet to obtain a small blood sample. But some companies in Europe are trying to find a pain-free alternative that removes the need for needles – here are three startups revolutionizing blood sugar testing.
GlucoSense (London, UK)
GlucoSense is a spin-out of the University of Leeds funded by NetScientific that is developing a non-invasive device based on photonics technology. Its basic component is a nano-engineered silica glass with ions that fluoresce in the infrared region when stimulated by a low power laser.
When the glass is in contact with the user’s skin, the reflected fluorescence signal varies based on the concentration of glucose in their blood and one can acquire the glucose concentration measurement in less than 30 seconds.
NovioSense (Nijmegen, the Netherlands)
NovioSense is a Dutch startup working on an implantable glucose sensor that uses tear fluid to measure glucose levels. The device consists of a 15 mm-long metal coil coated with a hydrophilic gel. Its flexible form allows the device to bend to conform to the surface of the lower eye lid, where the sensor is placed.
The coil moves to the correct place in the eye and the gel coating swells to increase contact between the metal coil and the eye fluid. Using state of the art low-power and highly sensitive ASIC technology jointly developed with Fraunhofer IMS, the device can measure minute-to-minute changes in glucose levels in the tears that are representative of blood glucose levels.
GlucoWise (London, UK)
GlucoWise is a product from MediWise, a medtech knowledge-driven company that empowers individuals to take control of their health. It was founded in 2010 by a team of entrepreneurs in London and aims to tackle relevant health problems.
The GlucoWise sensor is positioned to gently squeeze the skin between the thumb and forefinger or the earlobe to measure blood glucose levels. The device then displays the reading in real-time on the screen without having to pierce the skin. Read our interview with the co-founder to learn more about GlucoWise.
While we wait for these technologies to arrive to the market, Integrity Applications’ GlucoTrack, from Israel, which can measure glucose using electromagnetic waves, is already available in Europe.
Of course, there’s also the much talked about Google Lens, which is being developed in conjunction with Novartis. In May 2017, Google announced the lens will connect directly with smartphones. Unfortunately, a date is still not available.
Other less invasive alternatives in the works include FreeStyle Libre, from Abbott Diabetes Care in the UK, an inch-wide patch that can be worn for up to 2 weeks. There’s also Eversense, a subcutaneous implant that measures glucose in interstitial fluids and lasts up to 90 days. Roche recently struck a deal with the developer, Senseonics, to distribute the sensor.
Along with better, innovative treatments for diabetes – among them a fully automated, wireless artificial pancreas – an alternative to finger pricking for blood glucose monitoring will definitely appear as a joint effort between different fields including biotech, material sciences and electronics. There is even talk of a breathalyzer to monitor glucose levels – like how alcohol levels in drivers are measured by roadside authorities.
The only question is, who will get there first? Will a small startup be able to beat big pharma companies in the pursuit of a commercially available noninvasive glucose meter?
Editor’s note (19/07/2017): This article has been updated with the most recent developments in blood sugar testers without blood pricking
Image credit: Google Lens / Novartis; Glucosense; Noviosense; GlucoWise / Mediwise