Rewriting Life

Controlling Diabetes with a Skin Patch

A flexible tattoo senses glucose levels in sweat and delivers a drug as needed.

Attempting to free people with diabetes from frequent finger-pricks and drug injections, researchers have created an electronic skin patch that senses excess glucose in sweat and automatically administers drugs by heating up microneedles that penetrate the skin.

The prototype was developed by Dae-Hyeong Kim, assistant professor at Seoul National University and researchers at MC10, a flexible-electronics company in Lexington, Massachusetts. Two years ago the same group prototyped a patch aimed at Parkinson’s patients that diagnoses tremors and delivers drugs stored inside nanoparticles.

Other efforts to develop minimally invasive glucose monitoring have used ultrasound and optical measurements to detect glucose levels. And a variety of skin patches could deliver insulin or metformin, a popular drug used to treat type 2 diabetes. But the new prototype incorporates both detection and drug delivery in one device.

The patch, described in a paper in Nature Nanotechnology, is made of graphene studded with gold particles and contains sensors that detect humidity, glucose, pH, and temperature. The enzyme-based glucose sensor takes into account pH and temperature to improve the accuracy of the glucose measurements taken from sweat.

A flexible, noninvasive skin patch includes electrochemical sensors that detect glucose in sweat and a battery for heating microneedles that deliver a drug.

If the patch senses high glucose levels, heaters trigger microneedles to dissolve a coating and release the drug metformin just below the skin surface. “This is the first closed-loop epidermal system that has both monitoring and the noninvasive delivery of diabetes drugs directly to the subject,” says Roozbeh Ghaffari, cofounder of MC10.

The only minimally invasive technology for monitoring blood glucose ever approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was a gadget called the GlucoWatch Biographer, which used an electrical current to extract fluids from beneath the skin. It was approved in 2001, but patients complained of discomfort and sores, and the device was pulled from the market in 2007.

Other researchers are using different approaches to help people with diabetes. A device recently prototyped at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, consists of a fingernail-size patch with more than 100 microneedles that contain tiny sacs full of insulin and an enzyme. Glucose in the blood permeates the sac. The enzyme converts the glucose into an acid that opens the sac to release insulin as the needles prick the skin.

That approach would deliver insulin when needed. But the MC10 device, as an electronic platform, could also store data on drug delivery activity and transmit it to a wearable device that could then wirelessly transmit it to a smartphone.

 

 

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today
A flexible, noninvasive skin patch includes electrochemical sensors that detect glucose in sweat and a battery for heating microneedles that deliver a drug.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Premium.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look: exclusive early access to important stories, before they’re available to anyone else

    Insider Conversations: listen in on in-depth calls between our editors and today’s thought leaders

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.