Hey PWDs: Have you ever read the headline of an article and thought to yourself, Gee, that sounds familiar? That's what we thought last week when news of a nano-tattoo for monitoring blood sugar started popping up again. We first heard about this technology way back in 2002, and then again in 2009, and even in 2010. So is anything really new there?
Turns out the latest is that scientists at Northeastern University are integrating iPhones into their research. Dr. Heather Clark and her team in Boston have been hard at work over the years on a tiny, discrete tattoo for glucose sensing. Like a normal tattoo, dye is injected under the skin. But unlike a normal tattoo, the dye has special nanosensors that, when co-mingled with a particular molecule like glucose, "fluoresces" and is detectible by shining a little light on the tattoo.
Now Dr. Clark's group has developed an optical device for reading the tattoos that attaches directly to the back of an iPhone (see photo). Patients would be able to see the changes in color that high and low blood sugar produce. Also, the brighter the sensors fluoresce, the higher the blood sugar.
How accurate is a system like this? Well, the technology and tools to analyze the florescence are still in development, but Dr. Clark is hopeful that one day patients will be able to dose their insulin based off their tattoo. Eventually her team also wants to develop an iPhone app that will help analyze the blood sugar readings produced.
What's also new about the nanotech tattoo is its tiny size, taking up all of 2mm. So we're pretty sure Mom would be OK with this one. "It can only be faintly seen in the skin," Dr. Clark explains. "It does change color, but the change is fairly subtle."
Also, it's not really permanent, but rather more like a temporary tat. Because of the materials used, the tattoo would need to be replaced about every week, as it would be shed with the outer layer of your skin. Dr. Clark explains, "Two things make it less permanent: where we place it in the skin — less deeply than a traditional tattoo — and the materials we make it out of. We purposely use materials that degrade with time for biocompatibility reasons."
So what's the realistic ETA on this cool new technology? Dr. Clark would like to move into human trials, but her team isn't quite ready for that yet. She expects to see "progress within the next 5 to 10 years." Ugh! Then we all know we won't have much of an idea how things will really go until the FDA gets a closer look.
"The biggest challenge has been finding funding for such an ambitious goal," Dr. Clark says.
And there's the rub, Friends. One of the most infuriating aspects of observing the diabetes industry — and really medical research in general — is watching millions of dollars being spent on promoting and making incremental changes to treatments that already exist (drugs, pumps, meters, etc.). But when it comes to funding something truly innovative that could revolutionize the way we manage diabetes... ? Small wonder (or should I say nano-wonder?) that we patients are bitter at times...