Researchers Test Drawn-on Blood Glucose Sensors

A special ink, when drawn on the skin, can detect glucose in the bloodstream and determine blood sugar levels. (Sadly, not shown here.)



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Daytime doodling may one day become a medical necessity for people with Type 1 diabetes.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego have developed a ballpoint pen that can draw blood glucose sensors directly onto skin. While the ink is still a long way off from being approved for daily use, it has accurately measured blood sugar levels in lab conditions, according to a Fierce Medical Devices article.

(The press release from the researchers did not indicate whether the test subjects in the preliminary study had diabetes or not.)

The ink, an enzyme, is composed of chitosan (an antibiotic often used to reduce bleeding), xylitol (a sugar substitute that stabilizes the enzyme), and graphite powder (for conducting low-level electricity).

In the first phase of the study, researchers drew the ink on a special material that had biosensing electrodes. Researchers dropped a bit of the patient’s blood on the ink, which, upon reaction, sent a blood glucose reading to a monitor. In subsequent experiments researchers applied the ink directly to skin, and a Bluetooth-enabled electrode was used to get an accurate glucose reading.

There are limitations to this technique that will have to be overcome for the pen to make it to market, however. The electrode needed currently is too costly and impractical for household use. Furthermore, the ink will need to go through trials to determine safety and efficacy before it can be sold on the market. If the pen device is developed, researchers estimate it will come with enough ink to equal about 500 glucose sensing strips.

The ink will next be tested in varied conditions and developed to connect to a wireless monitoring device.

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Travis served as a staff writer for Insulin Nation and Type 2 Nation in 2015. Previously, he was a staff writer for Insight, a high school newspaper, as well as a copywriter for The Emersonian, Emerson's yearbook.