by Melissa Bishop, Sarah Dew, Amy Evans,
and Katie Jacoby
One of the authors of this article was diagnosed with type 1 or juvenile diabetes recently. She despises having to test her blood glucose constantly, so we decided to research diabetes, understand its causes and treatments, and come up with a way to to address this problem. Here are our results.
Glucose testing technology has come a long way since diabetes was first discovered. Current blood glucose testing technology uses a small needle called a lancet to prick the finger and test the blood glucose. Although the technology has come a long way, it is still invasive, requiring a small sample of blood to go into a blood glucose meter. This glucose meter is the most accurate current technology; and it is required to be accurate within twenty percent of a laboratory standard. Testing blood glucose levels can be very inconvenient, and many people do not test as much as they should because of this inconvenience. There are also continuous glucose monitors, which are small devices with a needle placed under the skin, designed to test interstitial fluid. These work well to a point, but they can be inaccurate, and they still require a blood glucose test before any corrective action is taken.
The accuracy of many blood glucose monitors is being challenged by the Food and Drug Administration. They believe that they should be more accurate, since there are over 18 million people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes in the United States who must use these for diagnostic purposes. Individuals living with diabetes are susceptible to seizures, comas, becoming unconscious and even death if this number is not correct. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, so improving glucose testing could help reduce the number of diabetes-related deaths (Harris).
Currently, researchers are finding many alternative ways to test blood glucose, like testing it with tears. The level of glucose in tears is very close to the level of glucose in blood, which is why tears are sweet. The only problem with using tears is that glucose levels rise tremendously in your tears when you are angry, which can give false readings. Another alternative is using glow in dark tattoos applied to the patient. The tattoo does not show up unless a special light is shone onto it. The light causes the tattoo to change color, and an LED screen on the light displays the exact glucose reading. These technologies have potential to be very convenient, but they are still in the very beginning stages of development and it will take years for them to become available to the masses, if they ever are (Davis).
Glucose monitors are needed for individuals that have the metabolic disease diabetes. Diabetes is a condition where the amount of glucose in the bloodstream is too high, and the person’s body either does not make enough insulin or has cells that do not correctly respond to the type of insulin made in the pancreas. The glucose will build up and eventually go out of the body as urine, but the cells in the body aren’t getting the amount of glucose needed for energy and growth requirements (Nordqvist).
There are three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational. A person with type 1 produces no insulin at all. A person with type 2 doesn’t produce enough insulin or the insulin he or she does produce is not working properly. Gestational diabetes is developed just while a woman is pregnant. Type 1 and type 2 are chronic medical conditions, whereas gestational usually ends right after the birth of the child (Nordqvist).
Every type of diabetes is treatable but not curable, yet. Patients with type 1 receive daily insulin, which was discovered in 1921. Patients with type 2 only receive insulin when needed because it is usually treatable with tablets, exercise, and a special diet. People who have diabetes use a glucose meter to measure the amount of glucose in their blood (Nordqvist). Glucose meters have only been around for about 40 years. The earliest meter was used in American hospitals and was called The Ames Reflectance Meter. It was ten inches long and needed to be plugged into an outlet. The first two meters that were actually in-home meters were the Glucometer and the Accucheck meter. There were also test strips that changed color according to the patient’s glucose level, but they lost popularity and are no longer sold (Glucose Meter). Now we have glucose meters that are small and inexpensive; patients can carry them around anywhere. They have to prick their finger and put a small amount of blood on a test strip that is in the glucose meter. The meter then calculates the amount of glucose in the blood and shows it on the screen. This technology has come a long way since color coded strips. It also makes taking blood more discrete and not as embarrassing in public; however, this procedure does leave little marks on the patients’ fingers or wherever they take their blood. It would be a great leap forward if scientists could come up with a meter that does not cause patients to prick their finger.
Glucose testing technology is slowly expanding. The type 2 diabetes rate in the United States is rapidly increasing in correlation with the growing obesity rate; therefore, until a cure for diabetes is discovered, there will be a constant need for a device to measure blood glucose levels. While there are different varieties available on the market, almost all of them involve a finger prick from a needle. Our goal is to create a painless alternative using infrared technology rather than a needle to detect blood sugar levels.
Our proposed device will be in the form of a bracelet. People with diabetes are advised to wear medical alert bracelets in case of an emergency in which they would be unable to communicate their health condition to medical personnel. Since these patients already have to wear a bracelet, the bracelet monitor would not be anything extra for them to wear. It will look like a typical medical alert bracelet, except with a clock (making it a watch, as well), a tiny meter, and a charm attached via a wire on an ultra sleek band, giving it both medical and fashion purposes. Hanging off of the meter is the charm that functions as a measuring device with an infrared light. The charm clips to the finger to obtain a reading via infrared technology. There will be a button located on the side of the clock that can be pressed to run a test. When the button is pressed, the infrared light will penetrate through the skin into the blood, and the waves emitted back will signal the glucose level. The face will then change to a display screen, and the blood glucose level will be shown. This device is perfect for those who do not like to be obvious when drawing their blood; it’s very discreet. Also, it should please anybody with a low pain tolerance because it is completely pain free.
One might be surprised that this kind of a product isn’t available on the market right now. Improving glucose testing technology has been on the agendas of many major glucose technology companies for a while now, but it takes a lot of time to test the technology, and many improvements have to be made along the way. This makes the production process extremely lengthy. A device like ours really could change the lives of diabetics.
Research in the treatment of diabetes has come a long way in the past decades. Recent studies on the use of near-infrared spectroscopy to monitor glucose levels have shown some hopeful results. This is good news for the possibility of our design, but there are still many breakthroughs that need to be made in order to ensure the success of it. Scientists still have more work if we ever want to eliminate invasive glucose monitors.
Blood glucose monitors still need blood to calibrate. In order for our design to limit inconvenience, time between calibrations must be increased. Two of the many companies researching noninvasive blood glucose monitors with infrared include Glucolight Corp. and OrSense Ltd. OrSense’s model lasts only 12 hours without calibration. Glucolight’s model can last for about four days between calibrations (DeNoon). The goal of our design is to minimize the use of blood for monitoring. To make this design more convenient for the user, the time between calibrations must be as high as possible.
Another aspect of our design that will need to be developed is the size of the monitor itself. Our design is a bracelet that not only makes a fashion statement and alerts medical personnel of the wearer’s condition, but also functions as a watch and monitor. Current monitoring devices that use infrared are large and bulky, which is highly inconvenient for the user. Glucolight’s device, for example, is attached to a monitor that is too large to carry (DeNoon). The size of the monitor and infrared light must be minimized to fit inside of a watch or bracelet so it can be easily carried around at all times with the patient and be used discreetly to test his or her blood sugar levels.
The most important breakthrough that must be made is an increase in the accuracy of the readings made with the infrared light. Our design uses infrared light shone through the skin to monitor blood glucose. Recent studies at MIT’s Spectroscopy Lab show that the IR light works, but it can only go half a millimeter under the skin; it is really reading levels in the fluid surrounding the skin and not the glucose in the blood stream (Dillow). However, the researchers were able to create an algorithm that can help monitors distinguish between the levels in skin and the levels in the blood stream (Dillow). Despite this solution, there are still problems to work out with the accuracy. Blood glucose increases rapidly right after eating, but the fluids found in the skin take longer to catch up to the blood stream’s glucose level (Dillow). Luckily, researchers came up with a process called “Dynamic Concentration Correction,” or “DCC,” that increased the accuracy on average by 15% and in some cases 30% (Dillow). The increase in the accuracy in this study is a good sign, but the rate must be higher to ensure the safety of the patients. Further research and testing must be done to increase the accuracy rate.
The road to a noninvasive way of testing blood glucose is a long one that has been frustrating scientists and patients alike for years; however, current studies look promising, and we are moving closer to noninvasive glucose monitoring technology. If these small problems can be resolved, our design can become a possibility.
The goals of our design are to change how people with diabetes monitor their blood sugar level by eliminating the painful process of finger pricking and to make testing easier and more convenient for the user. It may take many years for scientists to work out some of the problems, but hopefully in the future we will be able to end the pain of invasive blood glucose monitors and change how those with diabetes monitor their blood sugar levels forever.
Amato, Ivan. “Race quickens for non-stick blood monitoring technology.” Science 258.5084 (1992): 892+. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 2 Dec. 2011
Davis, Jeanie L. “New Glucose Meter Technology.” WebMD Diabetes Center: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Tests, and Treatments. WebMD, LLC, 20 June 2005. Web. 09 Jan. 2012.
DeNoon, Daniel J. “No-Prick Blood Sugar Tests Unveiled.” WebMD Diabetes Center: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Tests, and Treatments. WebMD, Inc., 25 June 2007. Web. 01 Dec. 2011.
Dillow, Clay. “MIT’s New Glucose Meter Checks Blood Sugar Levels With Painless Infrared Light.” Popular Science. Bonnier Corporation, 11 Aug. 2010. Web. 4 Jan. 2012.
“Glucose Meter.” Diabetes Daily. Diabetes Daily, LLC., 10 Apr. 2008. Web. 10 Jan. 2012.
Nordqvist, Christian. “All About Diabetes.” Medical News Today: Health News. MediLexicon International Ltd. Web. 09 Jan. 2012.
Mendosa, David. “Blood Glucose Meters.” David Mendosa: A Writer About Diabetes. American Diabetes Association, 15 Nov. 1999. Web. 13 Jan. 2012