Researchers Develop Sweat Sensor for Diabetes

Researchers at the University of Texas have announced that they have created a wearable device that can measure diabetes-related compounds in tiny amounts of sweat. Regularly collecting information on these compounds, they say, can enable wearers who have diabetes to make smarter lifestyle choices that can help them better manage their disease.

The developers of the monitor explain that it detects amounts of cortisol, glucose, and interleukin-6 (IL-6). The necessity of measuring blood glucose levels in people with diabetes is well-known. The reason to measure cortisol is because cortisol increases in moments of stress and in such moments glucose levels tend to rise above the normal range — a situation that can lead first to prediabetes and then to full-blown Type 2 diabetes. Rising IL-6 levels are associated with cortisol secretion during psychological stress. IL-6 also increases basal glucose intake and can influence insulin activity, according to the researchers.

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The device requires very small amounts of sweat for testing — just 1 to 3 microliters (a microliter is one-millionth of a liter) — which means that the wearer doesn’t have to produce much perspiration at all (the researchers call it “ambient sweat”). Because the device is worn continually, it gives constant readings, unlike devices that test just once before being discarded. The developers expect that wearers can use it for about a week before replacing it and intend it to be affordable enough that it can be used in developing countries where the rates of diabetes are climbing.

The creators of the tool soon expect to have an app that can be installed on a cellphone. Using this app, the wearer can push a button to retrieve information from the device. According to Shalini Prasad, PhD, one of the lead designers, “If you measure levels every hour on the hour for a full week, that provides 168 hours’ worth of data on your health as it changes.” This knowledge will enable wearers to analyze how their habits and activities are influencing their health. As Prasad puts it, “If I can monitor on a day-to-day basis how my body is responding to intake, and as I age, if I can adjust my lifestyle to keep those readings where they need to be, then I can delay getting a disease, if not prevent it entirely.” The next step for the team of developers is to find a partner and license the technology.

Want to learn about more tools under development for diabetes? Read “Painless Skin Patch Could Eliminate Insulin Injections and Finger Pricks” and watch “Diabetes and Technology.”

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