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Implanted Sensor to Measure Blood Sugar in Development

Carbon nanotube illustration

Carbon nanotube (Michael Ströck, Wikimedia Commons)

1 December 2015. An engineering group at University of Texas in Arlington is developing a system for people with diabetes to measure their blood glucose levels without taking repeated blood drops throughout the day. The work in the lab of biomaterials professor Kyungsuk Yum is funded by a $100,00 grant from the Texas Medical Research Collaborative.

The new system combines a tiny implanted biosensor that reads an individual’s blood glucose levels and transmits the readings to an external reader. People with diabetes, numbering in the hundreds of millions worldwide and growing, need to measure their blood glucose levels and inject insulin, a process that is often painful and imprecise. Even individuals with well-controlled diabetes who measure blood glucose several times a day often experience spikes in blood glucose after meals and low blood glucose at night.

Yum and colleagues, including UT-Dallas chemistry professor Dean Sherry, are developing their system to provide continuous glucose readings closer to the blood stream, rather than skin tissue, offering a more consistent and accurate measure. The sensor is a made from single-walled carbon nanotubes that interact with glucose molecules with a fluorescence that can be detected and measured. The implanted sensor then emits the readings in near-infrared waves to an external optical scanner.

“Continuous blood glucose monitoring is essential in every diabetic’s life,” says Yum in a university statement. “This device could unlock continuous information vital to a diabetic’s quality of life.”

In a paper published earlier this year in Biotechnology Journal, Yum describes the nanotube sensor technology, including concerns about the safety of carbon nanotubes. Among those concerns is the similarity of carbon nanotubes to asbestos fibers associated with cancer risks. Recent studies indicate that multi-walled carbon nanotubes pose risks similar to asbestos when in their long, pristine form. These risks can be alleviated when the nanotubes are chemically treated to reduce their length and made more stable.

The Texas Medical Research Collaborative funding Yum’s work is a partnership of universities, health care providers, and companies funding research and development of technologies that address real-world medical problems in relatively short periods of time. Recipients of grants from the collaborative are encouraged to find matching funds from private industry, government grants, or other proof of concept and commercialization funds.

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