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Technology Frontier

Feb 2009 Issue

Good news for diabetic patients: No need to shed blood!

A novel needle-free daily diabetic blood test by PolyU

People living with diabetes constantly monitor blood glucose and take insulin injection to ward off any life-threatening complications such as stroke, heart attack and kidney failure. Conventional testing method requires patients to prick a finger and draw blood in order to measure their blood sugar level, that will render a painful process for diabetics who need to repeat 4 to 6 times a day. A team of scientists from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has harnessed the power of Near-infrared (NIR) Spectroscopy to devise a needle-free (or needleless) meter, which tests glucose in blood non-invasively, while providing accurate measurement. One day the NIR will eliminate blood test and agony of daily test altogether.

Professor Joanne Chung and her team have created a working prototype that uses NIR to measure blood glucose directly. NIR light has wavelength longer than visible light but shorter than radio frequencies, so that it can interact with molecule in human tissue. Instead of pricking the fingers, the patient only needs to put his thumb over a sensor. The sensor beams ray of NIR light which, similar to standard room light, penetrates a few millimeters into the dermal layer of the skin. At the same time, the sensor scans the thumb in depth to detect any reflected light returning from the skin. This reflected light is translated into blood glucose value by a proprietary analyser.

Just one touch on the NIR light will give accurate glucose readout in seconds; it offers a simple and comfortable testing unmatched by current technology. Professor Chung said, “Many diabetics hold back on blood test for its inconvenience and discomfort. This cutting-edge technology will encourage patients to keep up with their glucose monitoring routines. They will lead a healthy life if they have good control of the disease.”

The blood glucose is actually reflected in the unique light spectra the skin gives off. When NIR light is radiated through the skin and into the blood vessel, glucose molecules in the blood absorb some of the light energy whilst the rest is reflected. NIR absorbance increases with concentration of the molecule and the wavelength of reflected light changes accordingly. Ultimately, the light being reflected can be used to compute the glucose level.

Result of clinical studies reveals that the glucose meter can match the accuracy of existing technology and it is ready to be commercialized. Once being miniaturized for home use and on-the-go testing, it will help millions of diabetics to better monitor and manage their disease.

The biggest advantage is the patient can test as often as he/she wants by simply placing his/her finger over NIR light, especially for pregnant diabetics who need to check their blood glucose level every 2 hours. Professor Chung said, “The procedure is so simple that even young kids can manage. The non-invasive meter enables young kids do testing on their own and parenting of diabetic children can be a much easier job than before.”

Unlike finger-prick method, this new technology cuts the need to smear with blood and eliminates the risk of infection. It can be shared by multiple patients, making it the perfect choice for clinics and nursing homes.

The needle-free meter marks a significant technological advance in diagnostic scanning that will benefit people with diabetes. The NIR has already won a gold medal at the 35th International Exhibition of Inventions New Techniques & Products in Geneva and a Bronze Award at Brussels Eureka 2005. The team is looking to improve on the daily testing accuracy and to reduce the size and cost of the technology.

PolyU will continue to deliver on its promise to support applied research on promising ideas that is highly relevant to the needs of the community, and to transform research outcome into groundbreaking applications and products that will bring a better life to the mankind.