Non-invasive device could end daily finger pricking for people with diabetes

Supplementary content information

Photo of Professor Gin Jose with finger scanner

Professor Gin Jose

University of Leeds

News from the University of Leeds

A new laser sensor that monitors blood glucose levels without penetrating the skin could transform the lives of millions of people living with diabetes.

Currently, many people with diabetes need to measure their blood glucose levels by pricking their fingers, squeezing drops of blood onto test strips, and processing the results with portable glucometers. The process can be uncomfortable, messy and often has to be repeated several times every day.

The new technology, developed by Professor Gin Jose and a team at the University of Leeds, uses a small device with low-powered lasers to measure blood glucose levels without penetrating the skin. It could give people a simpler, pain-free alternative to finger pricking.

The technology has continuous monitoring capabilities making it ideal for development as a wearable device. This could help improve the lives of millions of people by enabling them to constantly monitor their glucose levels without the need for an implant.

It is also good news for healthcare providers as it could provide a simpler and cheaper alternative to both of the current methods - finger pricking, which uses disposable sample strips, or invasive continuous monitors, which use implanted sensors that need regular replacement.

Professor Jose said: Unlike the traditional method, this new non-invasive technology can constantly monitor blood glucose levels.

As well as being a replacement for finger-prick testing, this technology opens up the potential for people with diabetes to receive continuous readings, meaning they are instantly alerted when intervention is needed. This will allow people to self-regulate and minimise emergency hospital treatment. This wearable device would then be just one step from a product which sends alerts to smart phones or readings directly to doctors, allowing them to profile how a person is managing their diabetes over time.

The technology is licensed to Glucosense Diagnostics, a spin-out company jointly formed and funded by the University of Leeds and NetScientific plc, a biomedical and healthcare technology group specialisingin commercialising transformative technologies from leading universities and research institutes.

Sir Richard Sykes, Chairman of NetScientific, said: Diabetes is a growing problem, with the need for non-invasive glucose monitoring becoming ever more critical. This unique technology could help empower millions of people to better manage their diabetes and minimise interventions with healthcare providers. The ultimate development of two distinct products - a finger-touch and a wearable - could give people with different types of diabetes the option of a device that best suits their lifestyle.

At the heart of the new technology is a piece of nano-engineered silica glass with ions that fluoresce in infrared light when a low power laser light hits them. When the glass is in contact with the user's skin, the extent of fluorescence signal varies in relation to the concentration of glucose in their blood. The device measures the length of time the fluorescence lasts for and uses that to calculate the glucose level in a person's bloodstream without the need for a needle. This process takes less than 30 seconds.

Professor Jose said: The glass used in our sensors is hardwearing, acting in a similar way as that used in smartphones. Because of this, our device is more affordable, with lower running costs than the existing self-monitoring systems.

Currently, we are piloting a bench top version in our clinical investigations but aim to develop two types of devices for the market. One will be a finger-touch device similar to a computer mouse. The other will be a wearable version for continuous monitoring.

The results of a pilot clinical study, carried out at the Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine under the supervision of Professor Peter Grant, suggest that the new monitor has the potential to perform as well as conventional technologies. More clinical trials and product optimization are required for regulatory approvals and before the technology can be put on the market.

Professor Grant, Professor of Medicine at the University of Leeds and Consultant diabetes specialist, said: Non-invasive monitoring will be particularly valuable in young people with Type 1 diabetes. Within this group, those who are attempting very tight control such as young women going through pregnancy or people who are experiencing recurrent hypoglycaemia could find this technology very useful.

Professor Jose's research is based in the Institute for Materials Research in the University of Leeds' School of Chemical and Process Engineering. The initial feasibility study was funded by the NIHR i4i and the research was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the University of Leeds Research and Innovation Services.

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Notes for Editors

About diabetes

There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is the result of an autoimmune process and results in the pancreas not producing any insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that controls the amount of glucose in the blood. People living with this sort of diabetes need insulin therapy to survive. The non-invasive continuous monitoring that the new system offers will be of particular benefit to people with Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes usually occurs in adults, although it is being diagnosed in younger overweight people more frequently. People with Type 2 diabetes usually do not require daily doses of insulin to survive.

There are an estimated 3.9 million people in the UK diagnosed with diabetes. Of these, roughly 10% have Type 1 diabetes, the form which primarily affects children and adolescents, and the remaining 90% have Type 2 diabetes. It is estimated that more than one in 17 people in the UK has diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed). By 2025, it is estimated that five million people will have diabetes in the UK.

According to the International Diabetes Federation Diabetes Atlas, 382 million people globally were estimated to be living with diabetes in 2013. By 2035, this was expected to rise to more than half a billion people. More than 79,000 children across the world developed type 1 diabetes in 2013.

About University of Leeds

The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK, with more than 31,000 students from 147 different countries, and a member of the Russell Group research-intensive universities.

We are a top 10 university for research and impact power in the UK, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, and positioned as one of the top 100 best universities in the world in the 2014 QS World University Rankings.

About Glucosense

Glucosense is a NetScientific portfolio company jointly formed and initially funded by the University of Leeds and NetScientific plc. It is developing a non-invasive blood glucose monitoring device which could greatly improve the lives of people living with diabetes. The technology's nano-engineered silica glass is used with a low-powered laser to measure the concentration of glucose in blood, taking less than 30 seconds to provide results. The device has the promise of becoming the first non-invasive way to measure glucose levels, providing a simpler, pain-free and potentially cheaper alternative to the current finger-pricking method. It also has continuous monitoring capabilities making it ideal to be developed as a wearable hypoglycaemia-alert device and replacement for the implantable continuous glucose monitoring device that some people living with Type 1 diabetes require.

About NetScientific

NetScientific plc is a biomedical and healthcare technology group that identifies, develops and commercializes biomedical and healthcare technologies offering transformative benefits to people's lives and society through improved diagnosis, prognosis and treatment. For more information, please visit the NetScientific website.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate.

By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture.

We work collectively with our partners and other Research Councils on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

The National Institute for Health Research

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government's strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website.

Reference: PN 32-15