Dec. 2, 2002 -- Instead of dreaded, painful finger sticks done several times a day, people with diabetes may someday be able to accurately monitor their blood sugar levels as easily as taking their temperature.
They may employ infrared light waves and computers instead of needles and blood glucose meters by means of cutting-edge technology that uses the same principals of ultrasound but with better resolution.
The first trials of these experimental techniques suggest there may be new, painless, and noninvasive ways to accurately keep tabs on blood sugar levels, according to two studies in the December issue of Diabetes Care, a medical journal published by the American Diabetes Association.
In one study, a prototype of a new device estimated blood sugar "with clinically acceptable accuracy," says lead researcher Carl Malchoff, MD, of the University of Connecticut Health Center.
The handheld device performs like an ear thermometer by measuring the body's infrared heat emissions. "You just place it against the eardrum for about 10 or 15 seconds to measure blood glucose levels," he tells WebMD. "In fact, it basically is an ear thermometer like you would buy over-the-counter."
If future studies produce similar findings and the product is developed, it could offer a safer, more convenient, and less painful way for diabetics to monitor their blood sugar levels. Currently, the most convenient way to measure blood sugar levels is with finger sticks, in which a drop of blood is drawn from the fingertip several times a day and measured in a blood glucose meter.
Besides the handheld model, which is about the size of a cell phone, Janusz Buchert, PhD, inventor of the device and president of Infratec Inc., tells WebMD he hopes to raise enough money to develop another prototype that could provide continuous blood sugar monitoring. "This would be worn like a hearing aid and could be connected to an implanted insulin pump," he says.
In the other Diabetes Care study, researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston tested the feasibility of monitoring blood sugar with optical coherence tomography (OCT), a relatively new imaging technique used for other medical applications -- including the diagnosis of glaucoma and other eye diseases.
With this technique, a probe is placed on the skin and light waves reflect off specific body tissues with better resolution than what is seen on ultrasound.
Though the study demonstrated that OCT could be used to monitor blood sugar readings, none of the 15 study participants had diabetes. And since OCT is performed in a doctor's office or imaging lab, it doesn't offer handheld or ear-wearing convenience.
"We need to prove the validity of this technique in additional studies," says biomedical engineer and study author Kirill V. Larin, PhD. "But if proven effective, it could provide a noninvasive way to monitor blood glucose. The images produced are a very high resolution."