3D printing and new tech are improving glucose monitoring for diabetics
According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly half of all adults in the United States have diabetes or prediabetes. As a result, the worldwide market for diabetes care devices is expected to top $30 billion by 2022. Fortunately for those dealing with the difficulties that accompany diabetes, this means that there is ample incentive for investing time and money into researching new treatments.
Successfully monitoring blood sugar levels to prevent either hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels) or hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels) can be a matter of life or death for diabetics. Until recently, the methods employed to monitor glucose levels have been both slow to advance and costly.
A Need for Progress
The finger-prick method of blood sampling dates back nearly half a century, but many are still left with that as the primary way to draw blood and test blood sugar levels, despite it being antiquated and painful. Some have moved forward to continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) devices, which first appeared in 1999.
CGM devices are made of three parts: a sensor, a transmitter, and a receiver. Together, the entire device can cost upwards of $700. This includes the transmitter, which costs hundreds of dollars and needs to be replaced when its inaccessible battery dies. However, the convenience of doing away with the constant pin-pricking of fingers while at the same time providing real time charts of glucose levels and nearly 300 readings per day makes CGM devices an appealing option.
Recently, Dexcom has helped alleviate some parental fears regarding their child’s diabetes by developing the Dexcom G5 Mobile CGM system, which allows up to five people to remotely monitor glucose levels. Paired with a mobile app, the CGM has been shown to reduce parental stress levels and provides an easy-to-read display that can be used by people of all ages.
Fit4D is a coaching platform targeting those with diabetes. The app connects patients with a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) who offers guidance in establishing a treatment plan and proactively reaches out to the patients to remind them to take medicine and make sure they are adhering to the plan. CDEs are experts in the field with a background in nursing, nutrition, pharmacology, and social work.
POPS! Diabetes Care offers a new take on the finger-prick testing method by incorporating smartphone technology. A small glucose meter (about the size of a pop socket) attaches to the back of a smartphone case and users can prick their finger and have their blood sugar levels tested with the information feeding directly to an app on the smartphone. Glucose level trends are tracked and can easily be shared with family or a healthcare provider. The app then provides management tips and coaching similar to Fit4D.
In December of last year, Arda Gozen and Yuehe Lin — researchers at Washington State University — successfully developed 3D-printed glucose biosensors that could do away with the need for finger-pricking and expensive CGM systems. The flexible, wearable biosensors attach to the skin and measure glucose levels in sweat.
Previous attempts at developing such wearable monitors were unsuccessful due to expensive and wasteful processing methods and the use of harmful chemicals. The WSU researchers circumvented these problems by using a 3D printing technique known as direct-ink-writing (DIW) that creates precise designs on a small scale. The precision creates a highly sensitive sensor that is better at determining glucose levels and produces no waste.
The team is currently at work developing the biosensors on a larger scale so they can be part of a wearable device that is used for long-term glucose monitoring. Being 3D printed, the sensors can be made according to the needs of individual patients.
Verily and Alcon were working together on a Smart Lens program designed to create a contact lens that could monitor glucose levels in tears and transmit data directly to the eye. The glucose-monitoring aspect of the project was put on hold after the research did not provide “consistency in (the) measurements of the correlation between tear glucose and blood glucose concentrations ….”
An Alphabet, Inc. company, Verily is continuing the Smart Lens project in a different direction and continues to work on developing smaller CGMs with Dexcom, so perhaps the glucose-monitoring contact lens concept will be revisited. One thing is for sure, with the amount of money available in the diabetes care market, R&D will continue across the globe and new treatment and monitoring devices will continue to emerge.