Finger-prick tests for blood glucose monitoring may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to scientists who have developed an adhesive skin patch that measures glucose levels every 10–15 minutes.
diabetes skin patch
Researchers have created an adhesive skin patch that can monitor glucose levels without pricking the skin.
Image credit: University of Bath

Created by researchers from the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, the novel patch has proven to be a feasible noninvasive strategy for blood glucose monitoring in tests of both pig and human skin.

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Study co-author Prof. Richard Guy, of the Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

It is estimated that around 30.3 million people in the United States are living with diabetes, and there are around 1.5 million new cases diagnosed every year.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for 90–95 percent of all cases; it arises when the body is no longer able to use insulin effectively, or it fails to produce enough of the hormone, causing blood glucose levels to become too high.

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The burden of the finger-prick test

To manage the condition effectively, people with diabetes need to monitor their blood glucose levels regularly. This involves the use of a blood glucose meter, which tests a drop of blood released through a needle prick of the finger.

The frequency of blood glucose testing depends on the type of diabetes a person has and the type of medication they are using, but daily testing — which may be up to 10 times per day for people with type 1 diabetes — is common.

This form of testing can be a burden for people with diabetes; research has shown that a fear of pain and needles, the cost of blood test strips, and the inconvenience of the self-monitoring process are barriers to good blood glucose control.

As such, researchers have been striving to find a noninvasive method for blood glucose monitoring.

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“The closest that has been achieved has required either at least a single-point calibration with a classic ‘finger-stick,’ or the implantation of a pre-calibrated sensor via a single needle insertion,” notes Prof. Guy.

The new skin patch created by Prof. Guy and colleagues, however, has the potential to change the face of glucose monitoring.

Patch accurately tracks glucose levels

The skin patch consists of miniature sensors that use electric currents to “draw out” glucose from fluid that is secreted from cells on hair follicles.

The patch collects the glucose in small “reservoirs” and measures levels every 10–15 minutes. The hope is that this patch will be able to send glucose readings to a user’s smartphone or smartwatch and let them know when they need medication.

Importantly, the patch does not pierce the skin. What is more, its ability to measure glucose from such a small area on hair follicles makes it highly accurate, so there is no need to confirm the readings via blood sampling.

Prof. Guy and colleagues confirmed the patch’s accuracy by testing it on pig skin. They found that it was able to track glucose levels at ranges seen in humans with diabetes, and with high accuracy.

Further testing on healthy human participants found that the patch was able to accurately track glucose levels over a period of 6 hours.

Looking forward, the team hopes to extend the glucose monitoring period to 24 hours, as well as enhance the number of sensors it holds to increase accuracy further.

With such modifications, the researchers believe that their skin patch could provide a much-needed noninvasive glucose monitoring technique for people with diabetes.

“A noninvasive — that is, needle-less — method to monitor blood sugar has proven a difficult goal to attain,” notes Prof. Guy.

The monitor developed at Bath promises a truly calibration-free approach, an essential contribution in the fight to combat the ever-increasing global incidence of diabetes.”

Prof. Richard Guy