Scientists at the University of Newcastle, in collaboration with diabetes researchers at John Hunter Hospital, are developing a saliva-based glucose sensor, using a 2D printer, that might one day spell the end of blood-test needles for diabetics.
The technology integrates bio-sensors, or chemical signatures, into printed transistors and is potentially up to 100 times more sensitive than current blood sensors.
Professor Paul Dastoor and his team at the University’s Centre of Organic Electronics turned their attention to diabetes after developing water-soluble solar paint materials.
“By 2020 it is predicted there will be 500 million people in the world with diabetes. The creation of a non-invasive test for diabetics has been the Holy Grail in diabetes research for decades,” Professor Dastoor said.
Conventional glucose testing relies on a finger prick to draw blood, however many diabetics find needles unpleasant and tend to avoid measuring their levels as often as they should.
“Because we have developed paint with semi-conducting particles, we can now ‘download’ electronic designs, print them relatively cheaply from an inkjet printer and, in theory, build any electronic device,” Professor Dastoor said.
“On this principle, we are working on a saliva-based test of glucose levels for diabetic patients using a reel-to-reel printer, potentially making blood tests a thing of the past.
“We print electrical components using an ink that is a semi-conductor, mixing in the enzyme that will detect the presence and level of glucose when a diabetic places a sample of their saliva on the test.”
Estimated to cost as little as 1-cent per test, Professor Dastoor said he and his team were now investigating the logistics of printing the tests on a large scale. Funding is being sought to hone the process ahead of clinical trialling and possible release on the market.
The research has implications for the medical sector and for communities around the world.
*HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.