Monitor Blood Glucose Levels Through Sweat With a Painless Wearable Patch

Wearable Graphene Patch to Monitor Diabetes

A new Korean study suggests that a wearable patch that can track and regulate blood glucose levels could benefit diabetic patients some day.

The breakthrough invention aims to replace the traditional finger pricking method of tracking blood sugar glucose that is not only painful, but also very cumbersome, causing a hindrance in the patients’ willingness to follow their doctor’s directions.

The findings of this new invention were published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology on March 21. The study team was led by Dae-Hyeong Kim, at Seoul National University and was funded by the Institute for Basic Science in the Republic of Korea.

The Mechanics Involved

This new invention monitors blood sugar levels through sweat, and injects the diabetes drug metformin into the skin with microneedles.

The patch is made using graphene, a form of carbon that is thin, flexible, and conducts electricity. The (almost transparent) patch contains numerous sensors to detect humidity, sweat glucose levels, pH and temperature. It also has heat-sensitive microneedles.

When worn by a diabetic patient, the device captures sweat from the individual’s skin and the sensors in the patch capture the sweat's pH and temperature changes that indicate a high glucose level. On detecting a high level, the heat sensitive microneedles release the drug called metformin that helps regulate and lower high blood sugar levels. Simultaneously, blood sugar readings are transmitted to a mobile device to read and monitor.

The researchers have tested the glucose-sensing ability of the patch on both humans and animals and found the device’s ability to measure blood sugar levels to be accurate in both cases.

According to the researchers, the device could be used by either type 1 or type 2 diabetics.

The Subsequent Steps

The next steps for the device, according to the researchers, are to improve the long-term stability and accuracy of the blood glucose sensor. The co-authors of the study, Hyunjae Lee and Tae Kyu Choi predict that it would take another five years at least, to further upgrade the device, solve any remaining obstacles and commercialize it.

Richard Guy, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, in an editorial accompanying the new study in the journal said that some important questions still needed to be answered before the technology can be translated into practical use. His concerns are that it is unclear if the glucose-detecting sensors can work continuously for as long as 24 hours, or whether the device will be reliable if the wearer is sweating a lot and even whether the device is sensitive enough to hypoglycaemia.

Focusing on these concerns and improving their product, the researchers can significantly ease the lives of diabetic patients.

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