New wearable diagnoses diabetes complications

Taiwanese scientists have invented a wearable that looks like Google Glass, but can diagnose a common and devastating side-effect of diabetes.

Autonomic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can occur in either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, and which can affect some of the body’s most essential functions, including the digestive system, the urinary tract, and the heart. Symptoms can include nausea, incontinence, an irregular heartbeat, and fainting.

At the moment, it’s diagnosed by measuring heart rate, blood pressure and digestive speed over time, meaning making a diagnosis can take a while and most cases aren’t diagnosed until the condition has caused significant nerve damage. Doctors believe that detecting it more quickly could improve patient outcomes and perhaps lead to the development of more effective treatments.

The research team, who are from National Taiwan University Hospital and National Chiao-Tung University, designed their diagnostic wearable with this in mind. Called a pupillometer, it’s attached to a pair of glasses and then worn in a doctor’s surgery or hospital for half an hour while it takes measurements of the patient’s eye activity. Because the eyes are linked to the nervous system, symptoms of nervous disorders can be detected sooner via visual cues.

The pupillometer emits four different coloured lights and records pupil size and response time. As they report in their paper in the journal Applied Optics, the researchers found five markers that predicted diabetic autonomic neuropathy. So far it’s just a protoype and they plan to run clinical trials. But if it proves as effective a tool for early diagnosis as they expect, it could be in use by doctors by (well, this is perfect) 2020.

Image via Antonio Zugaldia’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley

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