Thanks to our unhealthy lifestyles and expanding waistlines, the number of diabetes sufferers in the UK has gone up significantly over the last decade.
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Figures released today by the charity Diabetes UK show that there are currently 3.3m people living with the disease in Britain – a 60 per cent increase from 2.1m in 2005.
The disease stems from an inability to control blood sugar level because of problems with the production of insulin – the hormone needed to break down glucose in the blood. As a result, eating sugar can lead to dangerously high levels of the chemical in the bloodstream.
At present there is no cure for the disease, which can lead to blindness if left untreated. To keep their glucose levels under control, sufferers have to regularly inject themselves with insulin shots – an uncomfortable and inconvenient experience.
There is an increasing urgency for new methods of prevention and treatment to be discovered, as the number of new cases continues to rise. These are four of the most recent inventions that hold great potential.
Google's diabetes smart lens
At the start of last year, Google created an eye lens capable of monitoring the glucose level in a diabetes sufferer's tears.
The lens is embedded with a tiny wireless chip and miniaturised glucose sensors, and has the potential to take a glucose reading every second.
It then transfers this information to a mobile phone or computer, allowing the person to remain constantly informed of their glucose level so they can prevent it from dropping too low.
The lens is now on course to be released for use by the public, after Novartis signed a contract with Google to develop the lens in July 2014.
The insulin patch
A scientist in the US has developed a “smart insulin” patch that can monitor insulin level and release the chemical when necessary, removing the need for injections.
Zhen Gu, a professor at the University of North Carolina, made the patch by imitating the pancreas's beta cells using nano-technology. In healthy people, beta cells are able to accurately monitor glucose and release the correct amount of insulin when necessary.
This research is currently only in the initial stage, and for the patch to be used on humans it must first go through a series of safety trials. It will likely be a while before this is made available to people with diabetes, but if it is, it will make their lives a lot easier.
Super-cheap glucose test strips
In October last year, scientists at Clemson University in the US invented a mini diabetes test strip called GlucoSense. The test itself is nothing special – it measures blood glucose level in the same way as any test strip currently available in pharmacies – the person pricks their finger, dabs it on the strip and waits for their blood sugar level to be read by a glucometer.
What is significant about GlucoSense is its price – each strip costs just five cents to print. This was made possible by rigging a normal ink jet printer shoot enzymes instead of ink.
While this won't have a huge impact in developed countries such as the UK, it will be a great help to sufferers in developing countries, where it is not always possible to afford glucose monitoring tests on a daily basis.
A pill that re-wires the body
A pro-biotic pill developed by researchers at Cornell University could bring down the body's glucose level without having to insert extra insulin into the body.
The pill contains live bacteria from the gut, which releases a hormone that causes insulin to be released in response to food.
By doing this, it manages to move the control of glucose from the pancreas to the upper intestine, thereby “rewiring” the body to produce insulin properly.