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Scientists Creating New Devices to Battle Diabetes

  • George Putic

In general, people around the world are eating better and living longer, but they are also moving less. This is contributing to the rise of diabetes, a condition that affects 422 million people and is fast becoming a major problem, especially in poor countries.

Two factors are critical for the successful treatment of diabetes patients. First is a correct diagnosis of the type of the disease, and second is the administration of the appropriate drugs.

A misdiagnosis and, consequently, the wrong treatment can cause many problems.

“If you label someone who actually has type 2 diabetes as type 1, they'll be left on insulin for the rest of their life when they don't need it," said Dr. Richard Oram of the U.K. National Institute for Health Research. "Even worse, if someone with type 1 diabetes is mislabeled as having type 2 diabetes, then they may not be treated with the insulin they need, and they may suffer life-threatening complications.”

A new, less expensive test, developed at the University of Exeter Medical School, measures 30 genetic variants in the patient’s DNA and calculates the risk for type 1 or type 2. Individual diagnoses can be completed with a commonly used test for antibodies.

Scientists are now trying to develop an even simpler DNA-based test that could be done with a smartphone app.

No more injections?

In the meantime, researchers in South Korea are developing a nanotechnology-based adhesive strip that takes away pain and stress of daily injections for diabetes patients.

“The device is a patch type that enables [diabetics] to monitor blood sugar levels via sweat without taking blood samples and injections, as well as to control glucose levels by injecting medication,” said Kim Dae-hyeong, a professor in the School of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Seoul National University.

The patch is studded with microneedles that painlessly enter subcutaneous tissue. When the connected chip senses that the level of glucose has risen above normal, a small heating element dissolves medication and releases it into the bloodstream.

Tests done on lab mice were promising, so scientists hope they will soon start testing the patch on humans. In this phase, experiments are still expensive, but scientists say the price will drop once it the patch is ready for mass production.

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