Diabetes Self-Monitoring: Shed a Tear to Test Blood Sugar Level

For a diabetic, nothing is more bothersome than self-testing to monitor blood sugar levels. Current monitoring devices typically require patients to perform the painful task of pricking their finger to draw blood for a test sample. And many patients must do it several times each day. Indeed, comments in one TuDiabetes forum over the past 6 weeks have underscored this issue.

Even as diabetics discuss lancet devices, painful pricks, first drop of blood, and callused fingertips, a team of researchers at the Arizona State University in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic is developing a new sensor that could make the lives of diabetes patients much easier.

Led by bioengineer Jeffrey T LaBelle, a research professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering at the ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the team has come up with a new sensor which would enable patients to take tear fluid from their eye to test their glucose levels. The researchers claim the tear sample would give just as accurate a reading as a blood test does. The diagram explains how the device works:

LaBelle correctly points out that the painful finger prick, which is the current norm, makes people reluctant to take the test. Glucose in tear fluid may give an indication of glucose levels in the blood as accurately as a test using a blood sample, the research claims.

“The problem with current self-monitoring blood glucose technologies is not so much the sensor. It’s the painful finger prick that makes people reluctant to perform the test. This new technology might encourage patients to check their blood sugars more often, which could lead to better control of their diabetes by a simple touch to the eye,” says LaBelle.

The research findings have been published in Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology (2:6, 307-11).

The research team comprises LaBelle, the designer of the device technology, and Mayo Clinic physicians Curtiss B. Cook, an endocrinologist, and Dharmendra (Dave) Patel, chair of Mayo’s Department of Surgical Ophthalmology.

The ASU-Mayo research team began the project with funds from a seed grant from Mayo Clinic. Researchers got assistance in the laboratory from ASU students involved in research at ASU’s Biodesign Institute and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative program.

Team members assessed how current devices were working – or failing – and how others have attempted to solve monitoring problems. They came up with a device that can be dabbed in the corner of the eye, absorbing a small amount of tear fluid like a wick that can then be used to measure glucose.

The major challenges are performing the test quickly, efficiently, with reproducible results, without letting the test sample evaporate and without stimulating a stress response that causes people to rub their eyes intensely.

Because of its potential impact on health care, the technology has drawn interest from BioAccel, an Arizona nonprofit that works to accelerate efforts to bring biomedical technologies to the marketplace, says a Mayo Clinic press release.

“A critical element to commercialization is the validation of technology through proof-of -concept testing,” says Nikki Corday, BioAccel business and development manager. “Positive results will help ensure that the data is available to help the research team clear the technical hurdles to commercialization.”

The researchers must now compile the proper data set to allow for approval of human testing of the device. “With funding provided by BioAccel, the research team will conduct critical experiments to determine how well the new device correlates with use of the current technology that uses blood sampling,” says Ron King, BioAccel’s chief scientific and business officer.

The results should help efforts to secure downstream funding for further development work from such sources as the National Institutes of Health and the Small Business Incentive Research Program, King says.

BioAccel will also provide assistance using a network of technical and business experts, including the New Venture Group, a business consulting team affiliated with the WP Carey School of Business at ASU under the supervision of associate professor Daniel Brooks.

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