A multidisciplinary team of scientists at the University of Bath in the UK have developed a non-invasive, adhesive patch that can measure glucose levels through the skin without a finger-prick blood test.

This new invention is great news for people living with diabetes because it could enable them to do away with painful blood tests that they are required to do numerous times a day to monitor their glucose level.

In a study published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers explained how the patch draws glucose out from fluid between cells across hair follicles, which are individually accessed via an array of miniature sensors using a small electric current. The glucose collects in tiny reservoirs and is measured.

According to the researchers, readings can be taken every 10 to 15 minutes over several hours.

“A non-invasive – that is, needle-less – method to monitor blood sugar has proven a difficult goal to attain. 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,” said Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Bath University, Richard Guy.

“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,” continued Professor Guy.

In the study, the team tested the patch on both pig skin, where they showed it could accurately track glucose levels across the range seen in diabetic human patients, and on healthy human volunteers, where again the patch was able to track blood sugar variations throughout the day.

“The specific architecture of our array permits calibration-free operation, and it has the further benefit of allowing realisation with a variety of materials in combination. We utilised 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 from the Department of Physics at Bath University.

“In addition, our design can be implemented using high-throughput fabrication techniques like screen printing, which we hope will ultimately support a disposable, widely affordable device,” continued Dr Ilie.

In the near future the researchers plan to further refine the design of the patch to optimise the number of sensors in the array, to demonstrate full functionality over a 24-hour wear period, and to undertake a number of key clinical trials.

The researchers believe that their invention can eventually become a low-cost, wearable sensor that sends regular, clinically relevant glucose measurements to the user’s phone or smart watch wirelessly, alerting them when they may need to take action.

The development of the patch was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Sir Halley Stewart Trust.

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