For decades, diabetes management has consisted of daily finger pricks to measure your blood sugar.
Prior to the groundbreaking invention of the glucometer in 1968, people with diabetes used daily urine samples to get generalized estimates of their blood glucose range. The information was so delayed and so vague, it was barely helpful.
Today, glucometers that provide results within five seconds are common. Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) that provides blood sugar readings directly to your smartphone every five minutes have become mainstream.
But all of this technology still requires daily finger pricks as well as a weekly insertion via a sharp needle of a new sensor for CGM.
Researchers and scientists at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom are trying to change that.
They’ve been developing a needle-less patch that measures and monitors blood sugar levels.
“The closest that has been achieved has required either at least a single-point calibration with a classic ‘finger-stick’ or the implantation of a pre-calibrated sensor via a single needle insertion,” explained Richard Guy, a professor in the university’s department of pharmacy and pharmacology, in a press release.
Instead, the monitoring patch system developed at the University of Bath is promising a calibration-free and finger-prick-free technology.
The patch, which would enable a person to take readings of their blood sugar every 10 to 15 minutes over the course of several hours, doesn’t actually pierce the skin.
“Instead, it draws glucose out from fluid between cells across hair follicles, which are individually accessed via an array of miniature sensors using a small electric current. The glucose collects in tiny reservoirs and is then measured,” the researchers said.
Still questions to be answered
Don’t start lining up to buy one of these patches quite yet, though.
While the researchers have established a “proof of concept” in a study recently published in Nature Nanotechnology, the system is still far from complete.
Nonetheless, it’s come further than many glucose measuring “patch” systems before it, with promising success in healthy human participants.
This particular technology proved successful in both pig skin and human skin trials.
Researchers say the pigs’ blood sugar levels provided evidence that the technology could accurately measure the ranges of glucose that someone with diabetes would experience.
The human participants in the study didn’t have diabetes, though, but researchers say the patch was able to measure and track their blood sugar fluctuations accurately throughout an entire day.
“I’ve seen many of these technologies that looked promising in highly controlled animal experiments only to fall down completely in humans, either in clinical trials or real-world conditions of use,” Brewer told Healthline.
“I’m skeptical that noninvasive technologies will be accurate enough for insulin dosing anytime in the relatively near future,” he added.
In addition to passing clinical trials and real-world conditions, this particular patch technology still lacks the ability to wirelessly transmit blood sugar data to a device, such as a phone or smartwatch.
This patch technology does offer unique features compared to patch technologies of the past that never made it to market.
“An important advantage of this device over others is that each miniature sensor of the array can operate on a small area over an individual hair follicle,” the researchers said in the press release. “This significantly reduces inter- and intra-skin variability in glucose extraction and increases the accuracy of the measurements.”
Another promising feature of this technology compared to today’s currently available CGM technology from companies like Dexcom and Medtronic is that the components used to construct it are low cost and environmentally friendly.
“We utilized graphene as one of the components as it brings important advantages,” explained Guy. “Specifically, it is strong, conductive, flexible, and potentially low-cost and environmentally friendly.”
Guy added that researchers will ultimately try to create a patch device that’s disposable and widely affordable.
Moving forward, the devices needs to demonstrate “full functionality” over a 24-hour wear period, and then demonstrate efficacy and safety in a variety of clinical trials.