Recently, a group of scientist and engineers in California demonstrated an incredibly elegant and innovative solution to the problem of blood sugar monitoring for diabetics - a temporary tattoo that can automatically detect blood sugar levels!
Diabetes is a metabolic disease where the body cannot process the glucose in food, leading, in the short term, to high blood sugar and, in the long term, to a host of medical problems. The only treatment for diabetes is dietary changes in conjunction with regular doses of insulin, which promotes the absorption and storage of insulin from the blood in the bones and fatty tissues.
Since the determination of what causes diabetes symptoms and the discovery of insulin as a treatment, scientists have worked hard to improve the quality of life of diabetic patients. Devices for administering insulin have been made smaller, more efficient and easier to use. Insulin pumps have been developed, which are worn by the patient and subcutaneously administer both a continual background dose of the drug and larger doses in response to increased blood sugar levels.
However, all of these treatment options require the patient to undergo regular blood sugar testing, to enable the adjustment of insulin dose and prevent dangerous ‘hypos’, whereby the patient’s blood sugar drops too far, causing the patient to feel unwell and, in severe cases, lose consciousness. Current blood testing kits rely on the patient pricking their skin and applying a drop of blood to a testing stick, often multiple times a day. This can cause pain and inconvenience to the patient, and can lead to reluctance to monitor blood sugars.
The newly developed tattoo works by exploiting the changes in the body’s electro-chemical responses caused by changes in blood sugar. The tattoo applies a small electrical shock and measures the response, converting this into a figure for blood sugar. Recent successful trials proved that the tattoos are as accurate as invasive testing methods, and researchers are now looking to develop a simple readout facility and improve the life of the tattoo.
So far this looks to be the biggest improvement in blood pressure monitoring since the development of spring-loaded finger pricks (ouch!)
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