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FDA Advisory Panel Approves New Type of Diabetic Monitor

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Dec. 6, 1999 (Washington) -- An advisory panel to the FDA unanimously recommended for approval a wristwatch-like device that measures a diabetic's blood sugar without requiring as many frequent, painful fingersticks. The GlucoWatch, as it's called, offers continuous glucose monitoring with a visual readout and a distinctive beep in case a patient's blood sugar rises or falls to a dangerous level.

However, the Clinical Chemistry and Toxicology Devices Panel also said on Monday the FDA should require an extensive patient education program with the device as well as post-market studies about its use as a detection tool for blood sugar fluctuations. GlucoWatch is meant to improve glucose control by detecting trends and patterns, but not replace blood sugar measurements obtained from traditional fingersticks.

Panelist Arlan Rosenbloom, MD, of the University of Florida, tells WebMD he finds the novel technology exciting, and a possible step toward an "automatic pancreas," which would only be possible with a continuous monitoring system. "It's a new tool with new information, and we just have to learn a lot more about it," says Rosenbloom. Currently, the device is indicated for those aged 18 and above, but a number of individuals testified at the meeting that GlucoWatch could and should be used for children, including an 11-year old diabetic who said he had invested in the company making the device.

Manufactured by Cygnus Inc. of Redwood City, Calif., the GlucoWatch was compared to the traditional needlestick measurements in 473 diabetic patients -- two-thirds with type 1, or the juvenile form of the disease, and the rest suffering from type 2, or adult-onset diabetes. The patients wore the wristwatch-like device at home for five days, and in four studies Cygnus collected 13,000 "paired data points" to evaluate the GlucoWatch vs. the fingerstick.

Also known as a "biographer," the noninvasive GlucoWatch is intended to provide automatic readings at the rate of three per hour for up to 12 hours. However, a three-hour warm-up period is required to acclimatize the device to a person's skin, followed by a single stick to calibrate the system. The GlucoWatch is paired with a sensing device that is taped on the wrist. The sensor contains discs with the enzyme glucose oxidase.

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