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Glucose Meters: What's on the Horizon?

Contact lenses, tattoos, infrared light, and smart sensors will detect your glucose level in the "ouchless" future.
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WebMD Feature

If you've got diabetes, regular blood glucose (sugar) testing is a fact of life. And getting your all-important glucose level has become easier. Today's glucose meters are more sensitive, and require less blood -- which likely equates with less pain. That advance has been a big one for people with diabetes. But will the "ouch" ever go away?

Researchers are hard at work -- developing special contact lenses, fluorescent "tattoos," infrared devices, and smart sensors to decipher your glucose levels -- with them being "ouchless" as their goal. In some cases, no blood testing is required -- maybe one prick at the most.

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Guenther Boden, MD, chief of endocrinology at Temple University School of Medicine, has monitored developments in this field over the last few decades.

"The GlucoWatch Biographer seemed like the answer," Boden tells WebMD. "The underside of the watch has a membrane that can suck interstitial fluid through the skin; get 'juice' out of skin, so to speak. And that's what you need to measure glucose; you need to get some body fluid. The technology seems to work. But skin irritation has been a problem for some people."

That problem is being corrected, says Audrey Finkelstein, a spokeswoman for Animas Corporation, the product's maker. "We are presently working on Biographer III, which will combine the Biographer with tiny microneedles that will extract fluid to provide a better blood sample than is possible with other technologies. It will also greatly reduce or even eradicate skin irritation."

Products like GlucoWatch are good at alerting patients to impending danger -- especially necessary during sleep hours. "It's a dangerous thing for people to buy a product like this, thinking they won't need to do finger sticks anymore ... You simply can't replace finger stick testing if you want to be safe and healthy," Finkelstein tells WebMD.

Another device that tracks glucose trends -- Medtronic's continuous glucose monitoring device, the "Guardian," which received FDA approval in February 2004. That device isn't very patient-friendly, says Boden. It provides data that is downloadable by physicians, so that 72-hour glucose trends can be monitored. But patients don't get any immediate readings. Also, measurements during night hours have been inaccurate. Medtronic "is working very hard to solve that problem," Boden tells WebMD.

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