Glucose-monitoring device still in the works

April 14, 2010

By Sara Tirrito
Staff Writer

Baylor researchers have made advances toward the non-invasive glucose-monitoring device they developed two years ago by creating a new sensor configuration and making their previous electronics portable. The devices can now be left in clinics to gather data for further improvements to the final device.

"People have been working on developing a noninvasive glucose sensor for 20-30 years," Dr. Randall Jean, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, said. "There are instruments that work in the optical frequency range, there are instruments that measure the scattering of light, there are instruments that measure acoustic signals and others have looked at using the microwave frequency range, but we think our method is the one that will result in a successful instrument."

Jean said he thinks the research team's method, ultra wide band pulse dispersion spectroscopy, will eventually lead to the creation of a successful noninvasive device. He said this method sends a signal through a sensor, through a patient's hand and back through the sensor, so that the patient doesn't have to prick his finger. Then changes in the signal are measured, eventually leading to a glucose level measurement.

Jean, distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering, Dr. Robert Marks; graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, Brandon Herrera; and Winfield, Kan., senior Joel Weinert and Waco senior Josh Daniliuc comprise the research team. In past years, graduate students Eric Green and Melanie McClung also worked on the project.

The device is not yet complete and will still have to go through clinical trials before it can potentially be marketed.

Jean said to finish designing the noninvasive device and calibrating its sensor, lots of finger prick data will be needed.

To get that data, the researchers made their electronics small enough to be distributed to various diabetic clinics. At the clinics, patients who consent to taking part in the study will give a blood sample as usual, but will also use the researchers' noninvasive instrument. The researchers will then collect the data produced by both the blood sample and the noninvasive instrument and use it to make their instrument's sensor more accurate.

Jean said the team is almost ready to have multiple copies of the electronics made and put in clinics. He expects the team to need about six months to collect data and come up with their final design, which might then be ready for clinical trials. Jean said the team needs more funding so they can prepare to put the product through clinical trials.

"In order for a diabetic to actually use this, there would be a long approval process," Jean said. "We're not ready yet to take our device and submit it to the approval process. What we're doing is we're looking for the funding to get the technology to that phase."

Herrera, who has being working on the project's measurement system and cost reduction aspects for more than two years, said the device could be important in getting diabetics to test themselves more often due to convenience.

"The health consequences are immense," Herrera said. "A lot of diabetics don't do proper monitoring because it's an inconvenience. They don't take their treatment as seriously, but if it's something easier to do, they'll do it more frequently."

He said the noninvasive device would be cheaper to use than other meters because no test strips would be involved, which might also encourage diabetics to test more often.

"I think the National Institute of Health stated that the average diabetic spends $300 a year on diabetic test strips," Herrera said, "so without that associated cost, they'd be more inclined to check their glucose a lot more frequently."

Dr. Benjamin Kelley, engineering and computer science dean, said he hopes to see the final product improve the lives of those who use it and to see more research done on the device in the future.

"I hope to see widespread distribution to make a positive influence on the lifestyles of many people, and then second I would hope this would bring good recognition to Dr. Jean and to Baylor and for the opportunity for follow-up research studies," Kelley said. "Not research on patients necessarily as much as research on the technology and the device."

Jean said he is also considering creating a bracelet-type device for diabetics to wear at night that could alert them if their glucose levels were getting low. The bracelet would use the same sensor technology as the meter, but would not give an actual glucose reading. Jean believes that could allow it to be marketed more quickly than the meter, because the bracelet would have to meet lower approval standards before it could reach consumers.

"That might be a first product that could actually be made commercially available because the standard of approval would be less," Jean said. "That kind of instrument would be the same, just the sensor would sound an alarm rather than reporting a glucose reading."

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