UCSD Unveils A Temporary Tattoo Glucose Meter

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Researchers from the University of California, San Diego working in the Department of NanoEngineering recently published a paper describing a patch or, as they describe it, a “temporary tattoo” that can noninvasively monitor blood glucose levels with the same accuracy as an FDA approved blood glucose meter. The underlying studies are small, and the team still has years of testing ahead of it before the proof-of-concept could be commercialized, but it’s an exciting new technology and a potential next step toward noninvasive glucose monitoring.

Research in noninvasive glucose monitoring has consolidated in recent years around a few promising technologies: spectroscopic, optical, and electrochemical. Several startups have tried, and have thus far failed, to leverage spectroscopic sampling, which involves photographing blood through the skin, under bright light, and then analyzing the image.

One promising technology has been electrochemical analysis, which borrows heavily from technology already found in traditional continuous glucose monitors. Continuous glucose monitors are considered “minimally invasive” because they rely on tiny electrodes that are implanted just under the skin. These electrodes take glucose samples from the interstitial fluid that surrounds our skin cells. Over the years, scientists have developed reliable conversion algorithms for determining blood glucose levels based on the glucose levels found in interstitial fluid .

Now, researchers with UCSD are trying to improve on the continuous glucose monitor design by developing a temporary tattoo that does not require implanted electrodes. The UCSD team created a patch that literally sucks interstitial fluid up through the skin until it makes contacts with the patch’s sensors. The tattoo does this by applying a low-level electrical current to the skin, which drives the interstitial fluid toward the surface of the skin. Early work in this area left patients with skin irritations and pain from the electrical current, but years of research has allowed the team to bring the current down enough that its now nearly imperceptible to patients.

Seven volunteers were used to test the accuracy of the tattoo. The volunteers were asked to fast prior to arrival and then had glucose readings taken with both the tattoo and with a traditional blood glucometer. The process for taking a glucose reading with the tattoo is a bit cumbersome. The tattoo is first applied, then a low-voltage current is applied to the electrodes for 10 minutes to drive the interstitial fluid to the surface. At that point, a sample is captured and processed. Results were promising, with accuracy levels mirroring the traditional glucometers.

Google made headlines last year when its researchers announced that they had developed a pair of contact lenses that were able to take glucose readings once per second, providing constant glucose monitoring. The innovation came out of Google’s X lab and is now being prepared for commercialization through a partnership with Novartis.


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