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Diabetes device offers a pain-free future for blood glucose testing

Dr Maria Tennant
4 February 2013

For millions of people with diabetes, controlling blood sugar levels is vital to manage their condition and prevent complications. But pricking your finger to test blood glucose is painful and can be distressing. It is also one of the reasons that many people with diabetes don’t test as much as they need to, which can put their health at risk. Dr Christopher Wilson, CEO of Noviosense, a Netherlands-based company, tells us about a device that eliminates the need for invasive finger pricking, and gives us his tips for successful innovation.

Teardrop technology

This cutting-edge device, which doesn’t use blood to measure blood glucose, began life as a new way to deliver drugs. “It’s based on older technology that uses a metal coil in the eye to deliver drugs,” says Wilson. “We found there was a high level of patient compliance and comfort, so we looked for other ways to apply it.”

The glucose-measuring device consists of a 15 mm-long, metal coil that is coated in a hydrophilic gel, and which the patient drops into the bottom eyelid. The coil moves to the correct place in the eye and the gel coating hydrates and swells, creating a contact between the metal coil and the fluid in the eye.

“There are always at least four wires in the coil. One brings power and mediates data transmission in and out, and three other wires make up the electrochemical cell,” explains Wilson. “The wires sit in the pocket next to the eye, tear fluid flows over the surface of the sensor, and glucose within the fluid comes into contact with an enzyme located on one of the wires in the electrochemical cell. When the enzyme converts the glucose to gluconic acid, it generates an electron, which is measured by a chip on the coil. The data is sent to a handheld device that the patient holds in front of their eye, and which gives a glucose reading in a few seconds.”

Research suggests that changes in glucose levels in the tear fluid correlate with those in the blood, albeit at lower levels. “Our combination of sensors and electronics allows us to measure very low levels and currents,” says Wilson. “But sampling is crucial. Our device sits in the eye and is conformable, giving a more representative tear than making someone cry.”

The patient’s point of view

Dropping something into your eye might sound unpleasant, but Wilson is confident. “We always consult patients to find out if they would use a device,” he says. “No matter how good the device is, if a patient doesn’t like it, they won’t use it. Ultimately we must make the patient experience as good as possible.”

And as well as being easy to fit, the coil can be removed from the eye without causing damage. “The user simply switches the reader unit around and uses it as a magnet to remove the coil,” says Wilson.”

“At the moment, there is no solution available on the market to continuously monitor glucose levels in real-time in a wireless and non-invasive manner,” says Wilson. “We want to stop people having to constantly think about monitoring, and we particularly want to address parents having to wake their children up in the middle of the night to pinprick them.”

The device is making its way swiftly through the development process. “We’re now at an advanced design stage, and will soon be moving into animal trials and safety trials in people,” says Wilson. “The next stage is to develop a clinical prototype, and do clinical trials in 2014 – they will be the ultimate test.”

Multidisciplinary magic

In 2010, Wilson was tasked with developing ways to apply Noviosense’s novel biosensor technology to medical devices, and taking its diabetes work forward. “I was part of the team that brought the concept to fruition,” he says. The device was born out of a collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems (IMS) in Duisburg, Germany, and this close link continues. “We have a great relationship – we are experts in the design of medical devices and developing sensors, and IMS are experts in electronics,” says Wilson. “I talk with the project leader at IMS several times a week, and we visit regularly. We also work closely with clinicians and patients.”

He firmly believes good innovation isn’t just about new inventions. “Applying existing ideas and combining them or applying them differently can be just as important,” says Wilson. “But be realistic and think about how easy a solution is going to be to bring to market. You may have the best solution ever, but if it’s too complex, it might not happen.”

He feels the right working environment is key to successful innovation. “I need a creative and enthusiastic team of people around me who have fresh ideas and the ingenuity to solve problems. In turn, I can inspire them and give them enough freedom and support to come up with exciting projects,” he says. “You need to give people the opportunity to try new things. Nine times out of ten their ideas will fail, but it’s the one success that matters. It’s vital that my team members enjoy what they do and are passionate – when it just becomes a job, innovation suffers.”

Some advice

Wilson believes that the only way to be truly innovative is to take risks. “You succeed by making mistakes and learning from them,” he says. “But don’t make the same mistake twice. Take chances, don’t give up, but also think of things rationally. It’s very easy to over-believe in a technology. Be a smart business person and know when to stop.”

Applying existing ideas and combining them or applying them differently can be just as important

TAGS  Christopher Wilson diabetes blood sugar levels blood glucose test medical innovation medical breakthrough