University of Waterloo: Painless patch for diabetes monitoring now being developed

Researchers are developing a tiny, painless, wearable patch for people with type 1 diabetes which will send crucial readings to their smartphones.

The new project, funded by the JDRF (formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), involves the use of hundreds of tiny microneedles to sense glucose and ketone levels.

The research team is aiming to bring a product to market within the next few years to provide continuous, non-invasive monitoring to improve health and eliminate painful, inconvenient finger pricks.

“Patients won’t have to be constantly conscious of taking measurements,” said Mahla Poudineh, an electrical and computer engineering professor at the University of Waterloo who leads the project. “This device will do it for them.”

Although continuous monitoring devices for glucose have been available for several years, people with type 1 diabetes must still take blood samples via finger pricks or use urine testing strips to determine their ketone bodies levels.

High ketone levels are the cause of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a serious and potentially fatal problem that occurs when the body starts breaking down fat at a rate that is much too fast due to a lack of insulin.

The liver processes the fat into a fuel called ketones, which in excess can cause the blood to become acidic, triggering a range of possible complications, including diabetic coma, stroke, heart attack, blindness and death.

Poudineh hopes to alert patients to possible problems early using hydrogel microneedles on discrete arm patches that are less than a centimetre square and will continuously monitor ketone and glucose levels in fluid just under the surface of the skin.

“Devices that continuously measure ketones, as well as glucose, will allow people with type 1 diabetes to know when a DKA event is coming so they can take action to avoid it,” said Jonathan Rosen, associate director of research at JDRF. “Dr. Poudineh’s work has the potential to transform how we approach risk mitigation for this dangerous acute diabetes complication, a priority area for JDRF.”

While the patch itself is under development, Peter Levine, also an electrical and computer engineering professor at Waterloo, is building a miniature electronic platform to wirelessly send readings from the needles to users’ smartphones.

A second collaborator, Adria Giacca of the University of Toronto, will be involved when the project moves on to testing on diabetic rats and minipigs prior to human trials.

Eventually, Poudineh envisions all-in-one patches that would continuously monitor glucose and ketone levels and deliver the insulin required by patients based on the readings.

The initial two-year project builds on research Poudineh has been doing on biomedical sensors, including microneedles, since early 2020.

“It’s a challenging project, but we have the experience and the right people to work on it,” Poudineh said. “I’m super optimistic we can help save lives and improve the quality of life for people with type 1 diabetes.”