This month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved medical devices that continuously monitor glucose levels in the blood. Cynthia Rice, with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, says the technology is a giant step forward for diabetes patients who test their blood, often several times a day.

"These new devices will enable people to know whether their glucose levels are going up or down so they can prevent highs or lows, so they can take action," she says. "They can take more insulin. They can eat more food to stay in the normal range, and this will help reduce complications."

Those complications - kidney failure, strokes, cardiac arrest and blindness - are brought on by insulin deficiency. The body normally produces insulin to convert dietary sugar into energy. Rice says the new easy-to-use devices (Abbott Freestyle NavigatorMedtronic Minimed Guardian RT, and DexComm STS) give patients greater flexibility to manage their condition. "People simply have to place a sensor on their abdomen and then the information gets transmitted to a hand held receiver that gives them the information."

The monitors are not yet as accurate as blood tests and patients are advised to draw blood and compare the results. Rice expects accuracy will improve with subsequent versions of the products. She says the major obstacle right now is the cost, which the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and other advocates would like covered by insurance companies.

Diabetes afflicts approximately 35 million people worldwide.