Potential Blood Sugar Test Uses Sweat, Not Blood

By Denise Mann
Health Day reporter

WEDNESDAY, June 2, 2021 (HealthDay News) – A new, fast, painless sensor that measures blood sugar levels in human sweat may mean far fewer finger pricks for millions of people with diabetes.

Monitoring blood sugar to make sure it stays within the target range is a cornerstone of diabetes management, but the pain and inconvenience of daily finger pricks can be a deterrent for many.

The touch-based experimental test measures blood sugar in sweat and applies a custom algorithm that correlates it with blood glucose. It’s over 95% accurate in predicting blood sugar before and after meals, according to a new proof-of-concept study.

The new sweat test isn’t ready for prime time just yet, as large-scale studies are still needed to validate the approach, but diabetes experts not involved in the new study are cautiously optimistic.

“Needle-free blood sugar testing has been kind of a holy grail in diabetes, and I hope someday someone crosses the finish line,” said Dr John Buse, director of the Diabetes Center at the ‘University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “These data suggest there is hope.”

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The search for an alternative to the prick test to improve diabetes control and the quality of life of people with this disease is ongoing, and sweat has many merits. The fingers contain many sweat glands and produce a large amount of sweat, but the sweat has lower glucose levels than blood. Additionally, readings may vary with other features of the skin, resulting in inaccurate blood sugar readings.

The new sensor features a sweat-absorbing polyvinyl alcohol hydrogel that sits on a flexible plastic strip. You place your finger on the sensor for a minute and the hydrogel absorbs tiny amounts of sweat and undergoes a reaction that results in a small electric current being detected by a handheld device.

To make sure the reading is accurate, the researchers also measured the volunteers’ blood sugar levels using a standard finger prick test and developed a personalized mathematical formula that could translate each person’s blood sugar into blood sugar. To calibrate the device, a person with diabetes would only need a finger prick once or twice a month.

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“Such a quick and simple assay of blood glucose levels without blood at the touch of your fingertips shows great promise for better patient compliance and better management of diabetes,” concluded the researchers led by Joseph Wang, professor of nanotechnology at the University of California at San Diego.

Their results were recently published in the journal ACS sensors.

“I think it’s an exciting technology and I hope the team will be able to take it to the finish line,” said Buse, but many questions remain.

Researchers should explore the interference of things like handwashing soap, lotions, dirt, and food scraps on blood sugar readings from sweat, and then the question of cost and complexity arises, a- he declared.

“Will a retail version require special wiping, three minutes of sweat build-up, and one minute of contact?” Bus asked. “While that sounds a bit high, I’m sure some of the 30 million diabetic patients in the United States would prefer it to a finger prick.”

The bottom line? “There is a lot of work to be done, but there is hope,” said Buse.

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“This technology is innovative and somewhat promising,” agreed Dr. Minisha Sood, endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “If the algorithm is accurate and scalable, it would be a game-changer for blood sugar monitoring.”

Needleless screening is much more attractive to people with diabetes. “This is a proof of concept and it will probably take years for it to become mainstream,” Sood said.

The authors received funding from the University of California, the Center for Wearable Sensors in San Diego, and the National Research Foundation of Korea.

More information

Learn more about new diabetes technology at the American Diabetes Association.

SOURCES: John Buse, MD, chief, endocrinology, director, Diabetes Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Minisha Sood, MD, endocrinologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York; ACS sensors, April 19, 2021, online

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