Non-invasive glucose monitoring simply by scanning your eye? What a dream! But we've heard it all before, and it ain't lookin' too promising to become a reality any time soon, right? I mean, we were all watching both Fovi Optics and Oculir closely before both companies folded due to optical scanning technology that simply didn't work.
Well, now there's some new hope, in the form of Freedom Meditech, a San Diego-based company that's developing an entirely new approach to non-invasive ocular glucose measurement technology for people with diabetes. In February, the company announced an agreement with Battelle life sciences labs and is raising capital to kick off human clinical trials on its proprietary little device, which looks like a kaleidoscope you hold up to your eye for a few seconds to get a reading.
"This is fundamentally different technology than Oculir was using," Meditech's CEO Craig Misrach explained to me in a briefing at last week's ADA conference. Their approach is so different and so promising, Misrach says, that former Oculir CEO John Burd has joined the Board of Meditech, convinced that there's hope for optical glucose scanning after all.
"We licensed this new technology from the University of Toledo, OH. It uses polar imagery and the relation of light to specific to glucose, so you experience no delay like you do when testing interstitial fluid. In fact, our scan takes less than one second."
Whereas Oculir's method for shining light on the back of the eye, at the retina, turned out to be an insurmountable R&D challenge, Meditech is "shifting the paradigm" of ocular monitoring by scanning the front portion of the eye only. Did you know glucose resides in your Aqueous humor? (see illustration)
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This technique should have a major impact on reducing laser exposure, i.e. any potential long-term safety hazards, Misrach tells me. And it's even safe and effective for patients who've already developed diabetic eye disease. The only possible obstacle is corneal scarring, Misrach adds.
If and when Meditech's product is mature and ready for market, one huge advantage would be early screenings for diabetes: there are 65,000 eye exams conducted every year in this country, and this would be a perfect point of access to check for early signs of diabetes.
"Right now, 21% of people diagnosed with diabetes already have early retinopathy," says Keith Ignotz, CEO of DiaKine Therapeutics, who happens to be another Meditech board member and sat in on last week's briefing. (DiaKine itself is a very interesting company — post for another day.)
"Glucose is a very small molecule, so you have to create an algorithm that can sort out the 'signal' from the all the 'noise.' That's what makes this alternate site, or non-invasive testing such a challenge. That and you're trying to get the time delays into an acceptable range," Ignotz explained. "What Freedom Meditech is doing is extremely promising."
We'll see about that... Misrach nods affirmingly. "Our team is not out to create any false sense of hope. We are realistic of where we are at and the obstacles that lay ahead of us," he concedes.
Still, as usual, it's fascinating technology to know about and we're crossing our fingers that the eyes shall eventually have it.