Light may replace needles for diabetes sufferers

Spectrometers may allow people to scan themselves instead of sticking themselves. Yes, laser technology is now acquiring the companion technologies necessary to help diabetics stop having to poke themselves full of holes in order to stay alive.

Glucose is the body's fuel. It provides the body's cells with the energy they need to keep going. After a person eats, glucose is released into the blood stream. Since a large percentage of cells aren't in the direct path of blood, insulin acts as a messenger, carrying the glucose efficiently to the less accessible tissues. Diabetics do not produce enough insulin, and so the glucose, or sugar, builds up in their blood and stays out of their tissues. They need to monitor their blood sugar and inject themselves with insulin in order to stay healthy.

Unfortunately, monitoring blood sugar means getting to the blood, and that means shoving needles into your body until they hit blood.

A few different technologies could be changing that very soon. One is an algorithm that is able to extrapolate a person's blood sugar levels from the amount of glucose present in the fluid around skin cells. Since the glucose is carried by the blood stream, the skin cells aren't as clear an indicator. This made that kind of blood sugar check useless to anyone who didn't enjoy a bracing round of metaphorical Russian roulette after dinner. Now, skin is as accurate an indicator as blood.

Light may replace needles for diabetes sufferers

The second technology is the first one to be considered for this technique; a Raman spectrometer. This spectrometer would shoot out a laser. The laser will scatter off the elements being analyzed. Depending on what elements are present, the frequency that has scattered off the elements is different than the frequency that was shot out. This difference, called Raman shift, varies depending on the elements. That allows the spectrometer to detect how much glucose is in the fluid around the cells.

There is one problem, though. Raman scattering needs intense light. Intense light needs a lot of power. A lot of power needs to be generated by bulky equipment. This is the technology that still needs work. The spectrometer needs to be shrunk down enough that it can be carried around. Hopefully, that will happen soon, and checking blood sugar levels will be as easy as running groceries through a scanner.

[Via Physics World, NYTimes, and Physics Laboratory]