A Painless Future for Diabetes Blood Sugar Testing?

How new technology could replace needle-based diabetes blood tests with only a drop of saliva.

A Painless Future for Diabetes Blood Sugar Testing?

Daily sugar checks are a painful obligation for many of the 2.5 million Canadians living with diabetes. Now, engineers at Brown University in Rhode Island are using nanotechnology to develop a simple, needle-free test they hope will encourage sufferers to check their blood-glucose levels more regularly.

The new method could help people – especially children – better manage diabetes, reducing complications such as heart disease, retinal damage and kidney failure.

Until now, measuring glucose in saliva has been challenging because levels are approximately 100 times less concentrated than they are in blood. Domenico Pacifici, the project’s lead researcher, and his team solved the problem by designing a biochip etched with thousands of nanoscale light-measuring devices, called plasmonic interferometers, to measure concentrations of glucose molecules in water.

Pacifici and his team are now testing the method using artificial saliva, and he envisions a number of practical applications if all goes well. For instance, the biochip could be incorporated into a smart-phone app and used to check glucose with a tiny probe.

The chip could also screen for multiple biomarkers, such as cholesterol and liver enzymes, from a single sample – meaning saliva testing could one day replace routine blood work. Pacifici asks, “How cool would it be to see your doctor and run all the tests you need by giving a little bit of saliva instead of drawing blood?”

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