A University of Leeds spin-out company is working to revolutionise the lives of people with diabetes.

Glucosense, which is funded by the University and Net Scientific, have developed a non-invasive blood glucose sensor which could not only make the lives of those with diabetes easier but also save health services money.

The photonic materials technology was developed in School of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Leeds by Professor Gin Jose as part of a Basic Technology Grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), led by Professor Animesh Jha. Professor Jose and team discovered that by using this new photonic material technology they could develop a device that would optically scan for glucose levels in the blood, in a feasibility study funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Invention for Innovation (i4i) programme.

At the heart of the new sensor technology is the photonic chip — a piece of nano-engineered silica glass with ions that fluoresce in infrared light when a low power laser light hits them. When the glass is in contact with the users’ skin, the extent of fluorescence signal varies in relation to the concentration of glucose in their blood. The device measures the length of time the fluorescence lasts for and uses that to calculate the glucose level in a person’s bloodstream without the need for a needle. This process takes less than 30 seconds.

Currently many people with diabetes have to carry out blood glucose tests by pricking their finger, squeezing drops of blood onto test strips, and processing the results with portable glucometers. The process can be uncomfortable, messy, difficult to do in public and often has to be repeated several times every day. But with Glucosense it can be done quickly and without the need to draw blood frequently. What’s more the technology could be adapted into a continuous monitoring device which would help those with diabetes to better manage the condition.

As Professor Jose explains: “Many mobile manufacturers have started integrating sensors into their wearable products and glucose is something everybody is looking at. At the moment there aren’t any other technologies out there which can be incorporated into a small personal device. If people have continuous monitoring they have an early warning system and this allows them to regulate glucose levels better and better manage their diabetes, which should mean fewer complications will develop.”

For healthcare providers it is not only simpler but also cheaper as the current system relies on disposable testing papers. In future, companies may even be able to integrate insulin delivery into the monitoring device. This means that patients would automatically get insulin when they need it and hopefully reduce further complications.

The results of a pilot clinical study, carried out at the Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine, under the supervision of Professor Peter Grant, suggest that the new monitor has the potential to perform just as well as conventional technologies. However, more clinical trials and product optimization are required for regulatory approval and before the technology can come to market, but Professor Jose hopes it could make a real difference to those with the condition.

According to Professor Jose: “The glass used in our sensors is hardwearing, acting in a similar way as that used in smartphones. Because of this, our device is more affordable, with lower running costs than the existing self-monitoring systems.

“Currently, we are piloting a bench top version in our clinical investigations but aim to develop two types of devices for the market. One will be a finger-touch device similar to a computer mouse. The other will be a wearable version for continuous monitoring."