People with diabetes detest the daily process of pricking their fingers to monitor their blood sugar levels. Despite this dreadful routine activity, it is necessary to manage and control this medical condition. Diabetes is a long-term illness characterised by high sugar levels in the blood. Patients either produce too little insulin to process the sugar or are unable to respond well to the insulin produced.

Fortunately there are now non-invasive methods to check your blood sugar levels.

Glucostat System, a Singapore company and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have developed a prototype monitoring device using light to measure blood sugar readings.

Accordingly to the inventors, they accidentally discovered that light waveforms attached themselves differently to blood containing varying amounts of HbA1c, the sugar molecule that chemically attaches to the haemoglobin in the blood.

The more sugar in the blood, the more HbA1C will be present in the blood.

The device was made from a customised laser diode and all the patient needs to do is to place a finger over the probe for between 10 to 20 seconds. In May 2010, trials involving 30 people were carried, 19 of whom were non-diabetics. The remaining patients have chronic condition and whose blood sugar levels were badly controlled.

Blood was also taken at the same time to serve as a comparison and the results showed excellent correlation for both the high and low levels.

The inventors believe the test is presently one of the best ways to diagnose diabetes because it provides a more accurate reading of blood sugar levels. An average HbA1c level taken over time has also less variation than a one-off test.

The HbA1c test (also called glycolated haemoglobin) gives a result that shows how well the disease has been controlled over the previous six to 12 weeks. This will also show how effective the patient’s management plan is working. A non-diabetic’s HbA1c glucose reading is 5 per cent to 6 per cent and the goal in diabetes management is to reach 7 per cent or less. An HbA1c glucose reading of 8 per cent and above would mean the diabetes is badly controlled.

Some doctors said that while it is good to obtain the average HbA1c level without having to draw blood, a minute-by-minute or hour-by-hour blood-glucose monitoring may sometime be necessary. Patients need to be pricked three to four times a day, to ascertain whether the level is too high or too low under different conditions. This new prototype machine is still not able to give such live feeds. Also these readings may not be accurate due to fluctuations such as body temperature and blood pressure.

There are two other monitoring devices in the market namely skin testing and continuous glucose testing. There are disadvantages associated with both methods. Skin testing uses a special sensor pad which may irritate the skin and readings may be affected by sweat. Continuous glucose testing is expensive, costing up to $2000 and the sensory pad which is paced under the skin need to be moved periodically.

Despite these reservations these non-invasive screening technologies look promising and may radically change how diabetes could be managed in clinics and at home.

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