Diabetes is an enormous global problem… and it is on the rise. Despite decades of research and advances in technology, the methods of accurately measuring glucose in the body are still quite primitive. A new type of blood glucose monitor being developed at MIT could not only eliminate the need for finger pricks, but could also offer more accurate readings by way of a “tattoo” of nanoparticles injected below the skin.
A 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that continuous monitoring helped adult type I diabetes patients who were at least 25 years old better control their blood glucose levels. However, existing wearable devices are not as accurate as the finger-prick test and have to be recalibrated once or twice a day – a process that still involves pricking the finger.
Most existing continuous glucose sensors work via an injection of an enzyme called glucose oxidase, which breaks down glucose. An electrode placed on the skin interacts with a by-product of that reaction, hydrogen peroxide, allowing glucose levels to be indirectly measured. However, none of those sensors have been approved for use longer than seven days at a time.
The technology behind the new sensor being developed by Paul Barone, a postdoctoral researcher in the MIT Department of Chemical Engineering, and professor Michael Strano, is fundamentally different from existing sensors according to Strano. It is based on carbon nanotubes wrapped in a polymer that is sensitive to glucose concentrations. When this sensor encounters glucose, the nanotubes fluoresce, which can be detected by shining near-infrared light on them. Measuring the amount of fluorescence reveals the concentration of glucose.
The researchers plan to create an “ink” of these nanoparticles suspended in a saline solution that could be injected under the skin like a tattoo. A device similar to a wristwatch would be worn over the tattoo and shine near-infrared light on it. The device would detect the resulting fluorescence and display the patient’s glucose levels. The “tattoo” would last for a specified length of time, probably six months, before needing to be refreshed.
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