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Gold-Doped Graphene Wrist Strap Could Help Manage Diabetes Without Needles

ByTim De ChantNOVA NextNOVA Next
flexible graphene glucose patch
The flexible patch contains both sensors and a drug delivery system.

For many diabetics, life is managed one insulin-filled syringe after another. But if an new experimental wristband is further refined, they may be able to ditch the needles for good.

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The device is a clear rubbery band embedded with sinuous traces of gold and gold-doped graphene drug delivery system and sensors. It senses changes in the wearer’s sweat and, on a wirelessly connected device like a smartphone, correlates that with changes in blood glucose level. When necessary, it delivers a dose of the drug metformin, which primarily suppresses glucose production in the liver, via an array of microneedles.

Details of the new device were published this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Since the changes in a person’s sweat lag glucose fluctuations by 15-20 minutes, the device is only suitable to daily ebbs and flows of insulin levels. At this point, it also cannot handle incidents of hypoglycemia, or when a person’s blood sugar levels are too low.

Here’s Philip E. Ross, writing for IEEE Spectrum:

The researchers proved that the system can normalize blood sugar in lab experiments on animals. However, though the device has administered metformin to human subjects, it didn’t supply very much of the drug.

Though the device’s capabilities are relatively limited, it has “moved the field closer to this coveted prize” of non-invasive glucose monitoring and management, wrote Richard Guy in the same issue of Nature.

The graphene-based wristband is the one of the latest applications of wearable electronics, a field I profiled in July 2014 . Flexible sensors and drug delivery devices such as this are poised to radically alter the way people are treated for a variety of ailments.

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Photo credit: Hui Won Yun, Seoul National University

A previous version of this article stated that metformin causes the pancreas to release more insulin. It has been corrected to state that the drug suppresses glucose production in the liver.