Graphene is at the forefront of yet another breakthrough in medical technology. Thanks to the thinnest-in-the-world material, people with diabetes might one day be spared a life of constant injections.
Last month, the journal Nature Nanotechnology detailed the success of a new graphene-based wrist patch that can sense changes in a diabetic person’s sweat (i.e. noticing a change in their pH level or perceiving certain body-temperature fluctuations that signal rising glucose levels). The patch’s sensor technology can be wirelessly paired with a smartphone, thereby giving the wearer an easy way to keep tabs on the highs and lows of their glucose levels.
As needed, the wrist patch will release a dose of the drug metformin through a series of microneedles much less invasive than the typical insulin delivery systems currently on the market. Graphene’s new method of regulating and reducing blood sugar levels is a huge breakthrough for patients and doctors alike.
Researchers tested the wrist patch on diabetic mice. This could be one of the reasons that Nova Next, PBS’s science and technology hub, calls the device’s capabilities “relatively limited.” Still, the advancement could mean a lot for the future of continuous glucose monitoring and management. The device’s success on mice is an important first step in developing this technology further for human patients.
It’s no surprise that graphene, with its virtual transparency and excellent ability to transmit heat, was a go-to material for the experimental skin patch. But in order for graphene to be the key player in real-time glucose monitoring, the researchers needed to give it a boost. By enhancing the graphene patch with gold in the form of a fine mesh, the research team was able to enhance the device’s electrochemical interface, allowing the stable transfer of electrical signals between the patient’s skin and the patch.
The sweat-based diabetes monitor signals a booming business that targets a rapidly increasing demographic. According to a new report from the World Health Organization, the number of people with diabetes has quadrupled to 422 million in the last 30 years. As for the number of people in the U.S. with diabetes, the CDC puts that figure at a little more than 29 million, which is nearly ten percent of the population.
Some accredit the increase in the number of diabetic patients to the rising prevalence of sedentary lifestyles. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is especially prevalent among seniors. As the number of elderly individuals increases, so too will the demand for new and better glucose monitoring technology products. Experts see continuous glucose monitoring as a cost-effective measure that possibly reduces hospital stays, not to mention giving diabetic patients more control of their health.
Diabetes is a leading cause of death and disability in the United States. Market research publisher Kalorama Information released a report last year estimating that the worldwide glucose monitoring device and diabetes management market is estimated at $10,025 billion. With ever-developing technology and the strong desire for non-invasive methods for glucose monitoring, this segment of the diabetes management industry is prime for growth.
Keeping tabs on glucose levels is the foundation of diabetes management. It’s exciting to see that graphene, long heralded for its limitless potential in the wearable technology field, could one day provide a simple solution to millions of people who are living with diabetes.