Glucose Meters: What's on the Horizon?
Contact lenses, tattoos, infrared light, and smart sensors will detect your glucose level in the "ouchless" future.
See It in Your Eyes
Like the 1970s mood rings, your contact lenses could someday reflect your
glucose level. With one glance in a mirror, you'll see whether you're headed
This eye-opening innovation has been a 20-year-long project headed by
Sanford Asher, PhD, professor of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh
Medical Center. "We're making great progress," Asher tells WebMD.
"We expect to go to the FDA in another year. We're not sure how extensive
clinical trials will need to be, given the experience with soft contact
Here's how it works: A thin plastic sensor is embedded in a typical soft
contact lens; the type you replace weekly, explains Asher. The sensor detects
the amount of glucose in the tears -- and changes color accordingly. On the
eye, the sensor appears as a slim crescent of color in the lower area of the
iris, below the pupil -- a hint of green (normal), blue (hypoglycemic - low
blood sugar), or violet (very hypoglycemic). Other colors reflect high blood
sugar levels, or hyperglycemia.
Asher's research group has performed "the definitive study confirming
that tears can provide an accurate measurement of the body's glucose
level," he tells WebMD. That was challenging, since tears resulting from
any stressful trigger have a higher-than-normal amount of glucose. "If I
make you cry, your tears are sweeter than normal," says Asher. His research
group overcame the obstacle, developing their own innovative method to obtain
sufficient normal tears for their study.
A Palm Pilot monitor or special mirror may be developed to help patients
determine their exact glucose level. "No finger pricks are required,"
Asher tells WebMD. "In fact, this is more accurate than finger pricks
because monitoring is continuous... the color keeps changing, letting you know if
you're heading into hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia."
Glow-in-the Dark Tattoo
Tattoos inspired another novel device. The concept: Instead of just putting
ink particles under the skin, why not put beads that would glow differently as
glucose levels change in the body?
At Texas A&M University in College Station, engineers and chemists have
developed fluorescent colored beads that do just that -- they glow differently
as the blood glucose level changes, explains Gerard Cote, a biomedical
The beads are contained within a very thin, hair-like sheath. That sheath is
inserted below skin level. When an LED light (on a wristwatch) shines on that
area of skin, the beads glow -- their color revealing the glucose level. The
LED monitor also registers the exact glucose value. An alarm would sound if
you're nearing hypoglycemia.
Kids love the concept. There's a definite "cool factor," he tells
WebMD. "Kids get so embarrassed about having to check their glucose around
their friends. Now I've got kids saying, 'Tattoo me!'" One note: This
'tattoo' leaves no 'real' tattoo like a butterfly or heart -- kids will have to
get that elsewhere.