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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.

Glow-in-the Dark Tattoo continued...

For those who may experience a blood sugar problem at night, the day-glow monitor will help in taking quick readings in the dark. "Many times, it's their partner who wakes them up because they're sweating, and need to take a sugar pill (to raise their blood sugar). With this LED monitor, they can pull it out and read their glucose any time during the night," he explains. With this implant, there is no need for any finger pricks, he adds.

Cote has an NIH grant pending. "If we get that grant, we can proceed with animal studies. We still have a few years left before we test it on human patients," he says.

Shine the (Infrared) Light

A beam of infrared light is literally shining light on glucose levels. Several developers are testing devices that shine near-infrared light onto your skin. Some of the light is absorbed by fat and protein in body tissue. The light that is not absorbed -- and the information it contains -- is reflected back to a receiver that reports the blood glucose value.

Stephen Monfre, PhD, with Sensys Medical in Chandler, Ariz., has developed one such device, which has already been refined through multiple clinical trials. The infrared device is "about the size of a portable laptop device," Monfre tells WebMD. To use it, you hold a "sensor head" to your forearm, which emits the infrared light to the laptop for analysis -- to report your glucose level.

His company is getting the device ready for clinical trials. "We are hoping to go to the FDA in early 2006," says Monfre. Presently, the device needs one finger prick a day to be calibrated. "We think long term we can eliminate that, but that takes more research and more money and funding is hard to get."

Sensors Tell the Story

Sensors are getting big buzz, too -- sensors that provide continuous 24-hour glucose monitoring, that is. Several companies are vying to produce the best of these sensors. With each, the sensor is worn on the body (like a disposable patch) and can "read" glucose levels in the body. Then it sends the information to a receiver that you carry or wear on a belt. In most cases, an alarm sounds when glucose levels go too low or too high.

The patches aren't quite like peel-and-stick smoking cessation patches. There's some type of skin preparation involved with each -- typically, a sensor must be inserted under the skin. To calibrate these new-style monitors, patients still must do the finger prick glucose test -- but just twice or so daily.

Abbott Laboratories' version, called Freestyle Navigator, is under review by the FDA and due out in 2006, says Tama Donaldson, the company's spokeswoman. "We have completed clinical trials, and will be initiating more trials this year."

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