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Approximately 29.1 million people in the US suffer from diabetes, a group of metabolic diseases in which those affected have high blood sugar. Depending on the type of diabetes, type 1 or type 2, those suffering from the disease may need to perform blood sugar testing up to eight times a day. This is approximately 232.8 million glucometer readings daily, that is, 232.8 million finger pricks for the entirety of the United States. That can add up to a whole lot of pain.

 A traditional glucometer being used

Image source: Noah Seelam

Finger pricks are not the least bit comfortable. First, there is the anticipation, then the sharp point of a needle piercing through your skin, followed immediately by a throbbing sensation. If you have ever had a glucometer reading, you would understand what I mean. If you have not, hopefully you never will. Thanks to nanoengineers at UC San Diego, a new generation of glucometers may be just around the corner that are bloodless, needle-less, and quite possibly, stylish. The new alternative is a rub-on temporary tattoo that gently sucks glucose through the surface of the skin.

The temporary tattoo functions by applying a low-level electrical current to the skin in order to drive interstitial fluid toward the surface of the skin, a process that takes approximately ten minutes. Once this is accomplished, the temporary tattoo detects glucose through the enzyme, glucose oxidase. The enzyme converts glucose, or sugar, to hydrogen peroxide, and the amount of hydrogen peroxide detected serves as a proxy for blood glucose levels.

Based on the blood glucose readings of seven volunteers in the UCSD study, the accuracy of the temporary tattoo mirrors that of traditional glucometers. While there is still much to be done before the temporary tattoo will transition into a device that people can use at home, a future without 232.8 million finger pricks a day can turn our continuing battle with diabetes into a bloodless one.

Feature Image Source: Tattoo by Diricia De Wet 

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