New device measures blood sugar from sweat instead of blood, for pain-free monitoring
02/01/2018 // Frances Bloomfield // Views

Finger-prick tests for monitoring blood glucose levels in diabetic patients may become a thing of the past with the development of a smart sweatband that measures blood sugar levels through sweat.

According to the, the sweatband – developed by researchers from Seoul National University – is able to do this thanks to its highly specialized sensors. Sweat is naturally full of glucose – enough that it matches the sugar levels of blood. As such, it would take as little as one millionth of a liter of sweat for the sweatband's sensors to gauge blood sugar levels. This means wearing the device for about fifteen minutes on the upper arm, no strenuous activities required; the body continuously produces sweat even when at rest, after all. Following this, the results are analyzed then transmitted and displayed on a separate, handheld device.

Is it just as effective as the finger-prick test? Based on a small study, yes. Three volunteers had their blood sugar levels measured before and after being fed. The results of the sweatband were close to those of the finger-prick test.

“This is a potentially interesting advance in the management of diabetes. If further large-scale studies validate the claims it will be very useful and popular among patients,” said Dr. Paul Jenkins of the findings. (Related: Diabetes management: mobile app to remotely monitor glucose levels in real-time.)

More than just keeping track of blood sugar levels, the researchers have stated that their device could be taken a step further. Equipping the sweatband with tiny needles would allow it to deliver a dosage of blood sugar-lowering medicine, depending on the results of the test.


On this, Jenkins has expressed his doubts. The consultant endocrinologist has acknowledged its potential for sparing diabetic patients from the pain of finger-prick tests. But claiming that it could inject the body with insulin may be stretching it. “Nevertheless I have doubts about the additional claim of being able to automatically calculate and inject the appropriate dose of medication,” he added.

Even so, the sweatband is something that diabetes patients can look forward to. While the finger-prick test may be nothing more than a minor inconvenience for some people, that isn't the case for others. Many people find it to be such a stressful ordeal that it puts them off monitoring their blood sugar levels altogether. This is especially dangerous, since it increases the risk of uncontrolled blood sugar and its complications.

The pain aside, there are multiple factors that could make the very idea of blood glucose testing unpalatable for many people. A good 10 percent of adults are trypanophobic (or have an intense fear of hypodermic needles), and others are hemophobic (or extremely and irrationally afraid of blood). Being pricked by needles or seeing blood is enough to send their heartbeats through the roof and may even cause them to faint.

William Polonsky, a certified diabetes educator, spoke to on the matter. “Some people feel so upset about living with diabetes that they work hard to avoid ever thinking about it. If you feel this way, the act of monitoring can become an in-your-face reminder that ‘yes, you still have diabetes,’ so you don’t do it,” he said.

He added that the anxiety of the finger-prick test's results can even stress out people to the point where their bodies unleash stored insulin, leading to their blood sugar levels going up even further. “You might have had a terrific day in all other ways, but one unwanted number can ruin it all,” Polonsky noted.

The sweatband could save diabetic patients from all of that.

If you'd like to read more news stories, studies, or technological developments involving diabetes, visit today.

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