April 10 (UPI) -- Diabetics who frequently and painfully test their glucose levels with finger pricking will rejoice with this news: Researchers have developed a non-invasive, adhesive patch for the process.
Instead of drawing blood by piercing the skin, the process draws glucose from fluid between cells across hair follicles. With a small electric current, the follicles are individually accessed via an array of miniature sensors. The method was tested by researchers on pig skin and with healthy human volunteers.
Scientists at the University of Bath in Britain published their findings Monday in Nature Nanotechnology.
"A non-invasive -- that is, needle-less -- method to monitor blood sugar has proven a difficult goal to attain," Dr. Richard Guy, from the Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology at Bath, said in a press release. "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. The monitor developed at Bath promises a truly calibration-free approach, an essential contribution in the fight to combat the ever-increasing global incidence of diabetes."
Researchers are working on further refinement of the design to optimize the number of sensors in the array, to demonstrate full functionality over a 24-hour wear period and conducting clinical trials.
"We utilized graphene as one of the components as it brings important advantages: specifically, it is strong, conductive, flexible, and potentially low-cost and environmentally friendly," said Dr. Adelina Ilie, a researcher in Barth's Department of Physics. "Our design can be implemented using high-throughput fabrication techniques like screen printing, which we hope will ultimately support a disposable, widely affordable device."
Aside from avoiding painful finger pricking, lancets and testing strips won't be needed.
This method will help diabetics better manage the disease, as well as those at risk of developing diabetes reduce their risk, the researchers say.
Some advantages of the patch test, according to the researchers, include readings being taken every 10 to 15 minutes over several hours, the patch does not require calibration with a blood sample and an array can operate on a small area over an individual hair follicle.
More than 100 million U.S. adults are now living with diabetes or prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes 30.3 million Americans - 9.4 percent of the U.S. population - with diabetes.