This new diagnostic method, if effective, could be less invasive than the current finger pricking test. Photo credit: Alan Levine
Science

Could body sweat help treat diabetes?

by Harry Bligh

Scientists at Seoul National University in South Korea have developed a sensor that could calculate a person’s blood sugar from their sweat.

This could be a huge advancement in diabetes treatment. Currently, people with diabetes test blood sugar by testing blood taken from a finger using a lancing device and a glucose meter. This can be uncomfortable and even painful.

This revolutionary new treatment would potentially only need one millionth of a litre (1 microlitre) of sweat to make a calculation.

In the UK, there are an estimated 4.5 million people living with diabetes. Around 700 people a day are diagnosed with a form of the condition.

Diabetes is a condition which causes a person’s blood sugar to become too high due to a lack of insulin. Type 1 is inherited and is autoimmune whereas type 2 can be caused from an unhealthy lifestyle.

This new patch could be made flexible so that it easily and effortlessly sticks to a person’s skin. It would comprise of 3 different sensors, measuring acidity, humidity and quantity of sweat. This information would be sent to a portable computer device which can calculate blood sugar levels.

This could give the potential for patients to see how their blood sugar changes in real time meaning they can better control their glucose levels and insulin uptake. Poor control can lead to long term complications in later life such as mobility and sensory problems.

Researchers at the university said: “The system provides a novel closed-loop solution for the non-invasive sweat-based management of diabetes mellitus. The current system provides important new advances toward the painless and stress-free care for diabetes.”

Before this can be developed and released into public healthcare, the researchers in South Korea must overcome some challenges. Sweat contains very little sugar meaning its not as easy to measure directly as blood. Also sweat contains lactic acid which may disrupt the sugar level reading. To try and resolve this, they hope their “careful multilayer patch design and miniaturisation of the sensors” will make the device efficient and accurate.

Studies on mice showed reliable and accurate results and they were even able to deliver diabetes medication using micro needles incorporated into the patch system. It is not yet known whether the drug application will work when applied to humans since the doses would be considerably higher than that given to mice.

This is not the first attempt to revolutionise blood glucose monitoring, in 2015, researchers at the University of Leeds developed a device that could have the potential to test blood sugar using lasers shone onto the patients’ finger and measuring fluorescence corresponding to glucose concentration in the blood

Their study has been published in Sciences Advances and the team will now focus on making this a long term replacement to traditional blood glucose monitoring.

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