Short of a cure, the ultimate breakthrough for diabetes patients will be effortless diabetes management. Right now, the disease requires patients to monitor their blood sugar levels daily. If their blood sugar rises too high, they risk suffering from hyperglycemia.
The biggest frustration of blood sugar monitoring is its essential ingredient: blood. Not too long ago, patients had to manually use a lancing device to make a fairly deep cut in their fingertip. Later devices used more advanced lances that drew less blood and could be adjusted for skin thicknesses. But all of these improvements don’t change the fact that you have to make a cut in your skin.
Attempts to find alternative ways to collect glucose data have been frustrating. Products promising to offer noninvasive glucose monitoring have been around since the ‘90s. Take, for example, this advertisement from 1994.
Unfortunately, none have been able to match the accuracy of traditional testing methods.
The false promise of noninvasive glucose monitoring was even the center of a crowdfunding controversy. In 2014, developers used Indiegogo to raise funds for a product called GoBe, which could allegedly automatically count calories and noninvasively measure glucose levels. But an investigation by Pandodaily discovered that the scientific claims of the device were on shaky scientific ground.
Of course, technology has improved in the last few decades, and a string of ventures backed by researchers and reputable universities are giving the medical community pause. It’s possible that medical manufacturers have finally cracked the code of how to make an accurate glucose monitoring wearable.
None of the devices are available in the United States quite yet. But many are working their way through FDA approval and may be available to Americans soon.
Here are the most intriguing noninvasive glucose monitoring devices under development right now.
Glucowise is developed by MediWise, a company with offices in the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.
In lieu of a needle, the device collects information about blood sugar levels using high-frequency radio waves. These waves — which are in the 65 GHz range — are able to penetrate thin skin, such as the skin that is found on your earlobe or between your thumb and index finger. The waves are generated on one side of the device, pass straight through the skin, and collect information about your blood sugar on the other side. Plus, the device has integrated nano-composite films, which temporarily make the skin transparent to the radio waves. The company claims these films can ensure consistent data readings.
The device is still in development, and clinical trials are ongoing. Their website says that they expect to start taking pre-orders by the end of this year.
This device by GlucoSense Diagnostics, Ltd. is also based in London, with support from NetScientific and the University of Leeds.
Rather than radio waves, Glucosense uses light to measure glucose levels. It contains silica glass with ions that emit an infrared light when stimulated by a weak laser. When the glass comes in contact with the skin, the device measures the reflected fluorescence signal, and it uses that information to calculate glucose levels. The device is still being developed and requires further clinical studies, but initial research indicates that it’s as accurate as conventional measurement methods.
According to professor Gin Jose, who developed the device, Glucosense has the potential to offer continuous monitoring. "Currently, we are piloting a bench top version in our clinical investigations, but aim to develop two types of devices for the market,” he said. “One will be a finger-touch device similar to a computer mouse. The other will be a wearable version for continuous monitoring."
Glucotrack purports to use three measuring methods to noninvasively measure glucose levels: ultrasonic, electromagnetic, and thermal. The device itself looks like a smartphone and uses an ear clip for monitoring. Patients attach the clip to their earlobe, which allegedly measures glucose levels.
The device is currently available in some European countries. However, the Israeli-based developer, Integrity Applications, is currently working with the FDA to get it approved in the United States. It was first submitted for FDA review on May 10, 2016.
Google’s Smart Contact Lens
Internet giant Google is also working on a noninvasive glucose monitoring system — but it’s using a novel method to do it. Rather than measuring blood, Google’s device is a contact lens that measures glucose levels in tears.
The tiny device is loaded with technology that purports to continuously monitor glucose levels and transmit it using a miniature antenna. However, critics have pointed out that glucose levels in the eye fluctuate according to temperature and humidity. That might make accurate readings from eye fluid difficult, if not impossible.
The lens has undergone several research studies, but it hasn’t yet been subjected to a human clinical trial.
The SugarBEAT uses a small, disposable patch to measure glucose levels. Just 1mm thick, the patch can take a sensor measurement every five minutes from interstitial fluid from the skin. The relevant information can allegedly be communicated via Bluetooth and placed on the user’s smartphone.
It’s worth noting that the patch needs to calibrated via a finger prick reading before it can continuously measure blood sugar levels. This seems to undercut the point of noninvasive monitoring. However, the product’s website says the next version may not require blood stick measuring.
SugarBEAT is expected to launch in 2017 in some countries in the Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
It’s best to approach the claims of novel medical devices with a healthy dose of skepticism. This is true especially since earlier promises of noninvasive glucose monitoring never materialized. Time (and rigorous experimentation) will tell if they can genuinely offer what they promise.
But it in light of the talent that’s getting behind these devices, as well as the limited number of devices that are being approved in some parts of the world, it’s also perfectly rational to be optimistic. Soon, we might soon reach an age when diabetics won’t have to prick their finger ever gain.