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Proceed To Article Implantable Sensor May One Day Simultaneously Monitor Glucose And Insulin Levels

Researchers Hope Device Will Become Standard Of Care For Diabetics

An implantable sensor that may one day be used to simultaneously monitor glucose and insulin levels in the blood to help patients with diabetes better manage their disease has been developmed by a group of researchers in New Mexico. Although not yet tested in diabetics, the researchers hope that it will become the standard of care for patients with diabetes.

Diabetics currently measure their glucose levels manually, using monitors that measure the blood sugar in a drop of blood. The researchers say a monitor that constantly measures the ratio between glucose and insulin could help diabetics maintain closer control of their condition.

Dr. Joseph Wang and a team of scientists at the University of New Mexico in Las Cruces used electrochemistry and computer technology to integrate glucose and insulin monitoring into a device that can gather both kinds of data through one small, implantable needle that operates as a sensor.

To develop the sensor, Wang filled a needle about the size of a hypodermic needle with two tiny lengths of tubing that collect electrochemical data on glucose and insulin levels and transfer it to a computer. All of this happens in real time, while the device is implanted, the researchers report in the February 15th issue of Analytical Chemistry.

Although the sensor is still in very early stages--the needle was tested while hooked up to a machine that simulates fluctuating levels of glucose and insulin production--Wang believes it may one day become the standard of care for patients with diabetes.

"The trend is to replace the widely used glucose-monitoring strip with implantable devices," Wang said. "It is very important for patients to be able to measure the ratio between insulin and glucose."

There are more than 15 million people in the US who have diabetes, and another 800,000 are diagnosed with the disease each year, according to the American Diabetes Association. Roughly 95% have Type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body loses its sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. People with Type 1 diabetes, by comparison, do not generate insulin. Over the long term, high blood sugar levels can damage the eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

To combat these imbalances, patients can be prescribed insulin injections and other medicines to regulate insulin levels or enhance insulin sensitivity. Some people, particularly those with Type 1 diabetes, use insulin pumps to deliver insulin via a tube to the fat under the skin.

Wang said that although he hopes to launch clinical trials of the device next summer, he and his team have a long way to go. "We must first make the device biocompatible, scale it down and make the needle smaller, and improve the electronics," he said in the interview.

Ultimately, Wang foresees a device that costs between $25 and $30 and is implanted for 3 to 4 days and then replaced. Although he said that he has not yet been approached by pharmaceutical companies interested in sponsoring his device, potential investors might include Abbott, Biovail, Roche and Johnson & Johnson. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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