Could a temporary tattoo replace needles in monitoring diabetes?

Many diabetes patients have to monitor their blood sugar daily, sometimes several times a day. But the standard finger prick test can be painful, which can put people off doing it every day, making it harder to keep their condition under control.

A group of American scientists investigated other ways to measure glucose levels, and came up with the idea of a thin, flexible, wearable sensor that’s rubbed on the finger, similar to a temporary tattoo. Unlike a glucose-sensing wristband, which was discontinued after it irritated patients’ skin, there didn’t seem to be any side effects. While medication or hormone patches transfer chemicals through the skin, the tattoo works in reverse, sensing changes in the glucose levels in the top layers of skin, which correlates with traditional blood sugar measurements.

Joseph Wang and his team in the nanoengineering department at the University of California, San Diego have so far only tested it with seven volunteers, but it was accurate in each case. They now want to work to make it a reality.

If successful, it has the potential to help hundreds of millions of people worldwide who live with diabetes. If not, Google’s also working on blood sugar monitoring contact lenses, so it’s surely just a matter of time before daily needles become a thing of the past.

Diane Shipley