Needle phobia is indeed far too common. Technically known as Trypanophobia, it afflicts over 10-percent of U.S. adults. For diabetes sufferers, however, needles are an indispensable part of life. Thanks to a team of researchers, working at the University of California, San Diego, the unpleasant finger-prick test could soon be replaced by a specially-designed temporary tattoo that is capable of measuring and recording one’s blood glucose level.
Published in Analytical Chemistry journal, the research outlines the blueprint of a highly intuitive, wearable technology that can provide a non-invasive and pain-free alternative to injections. The sensor, built by postgraduate student Amay Bandodkar and his colleagues at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering, actually features a set of tiny electrodes that are printed onto temporary tattoo paper. The contraption is programmed to retrieve information regarding the level of blood sugar, from the fluid present in between skin cells.
Once the tattoo is attached to the patient’s skin, a slight electric current is applied for about 10 minutes. Consequently, the sodium ions inhabiting the fluid in between the skin cells start flowing towards the tattoo’s electrodes. The ions in turn bear glucose molecules which are measured in terms of the electrical charge generated. The blood glucose reading is then recorded by means of a built-in sensor. Speaking about the research, Bandodkar said:
The concentration of glucose extracted by the non-invasive tattoo device is almost hundred times lower than the corresponding level in the human blood. Thus we had to develop a highly sensitive glucose sensor that could detect such low levels of glucose with high selectivity.
In order to investigate the efficacy of the wearable device, the scientists selected a group of non-diabetic men and women aged between 20 and 40 years. For the tests, the subjects were made to eat a carbohydrate-rich meal. According to the team, the tattoo was able to accurately determine the spike in the blood sugar level. Currently, the contraption does not yield a numerical reading that can actually be monitored by the patient himself. The engineers at UCSD’s Center For Wearable Sensors, however, are in the process of developing a separate device that can be used to provide a more user-friendly readout. Bandodkar said:
The readout instrument will also eventually have Bluetooth capabilities to send this information directly to the patient’s doctor in real-time or store data in the cloud.
While the technology has indeed piqued the interest of the world, it will take some time before the tattoo is readily available to all diabetes patients. Apart from blood glucose level, the device can also be used to measure other chemicals like lactate and so on. The team is currently invested in making the technology more durable and also cost-effective. Bandodkar was reported saying:
Presently the tattoo sensor can easily survive for a day. These are extremely inexpensive—a few cents—and hence can be replaced without much financial burden on the patient.