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Tears Instead of Finger Prick to Test Blood Sugar?


If you’re a diabetic who has been shedding tears because you have to prick your finger to check your blood sugar levels, there may be a new use for those tears some day. Scientists have developed a device capable of measuring blood sugar levels in tears instead of blood.

Could the finger prick be unnecessary someday?

For the diabetic community--25.8 million children and adults in the United States and 350 million around the world—the need to measure their blood sugar levels by pricking their fingers for a drop of blood is something most would like to avoid. Advances in diabetes blood test monitors have made this task less painful, but not pain-free, and for some people, having to take a blood sample is intolerable.

Even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved glucose meters that do not prick your finger, they are used only to get additional readings between regular testing. Thus they cannot replace regular glucose meters.

But if Mark Meyerhoff, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) Phillip J. Elving Professor of Chemistry, and his colleagues have anything to say about it, finger pricks for glucose testing may be a thing of the past in the future. They have developed and successfully tested an electrochemical sensor instrument with the potential to accurately measure glucose levels in tears rather than in blood.

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Thus far, the device has been tested in laboratory rabbits, which are commonly used as surrogates for humans in diabetes experiments. The device is in the experimental stage, and so it will be some time before people with diabetes will be able to test their sugar levels in their tears, given the continued success of the research.

Another pain-free glucose testing approach is being pursued at Georgetown University, where Drs. Mak Paranjape and John Currie, researchers in the Georgetown Advanced Electronics Laboratory, have been working on a biosensor device for blood glucose monitoring that can be worn anywhere on the body. The biosensor removes a tiny amount of the dead skin layer and takes minute samples of fluids that lie just under the skin to get the reading.

As for the tears measurement approach, the scientists have reported that someday, “it may be possible to measure tear glucose levels multiple times per day to monitor blood glucose changes without the potential pain from the repeated invasive blood drawing method.” And that new testing method could bring tears of joy to the eyes of diabetics.

Georgetown University
Yan Q et al. Analytical Chemistry 2011; 83(21): 8341-46

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons