RISE ICT stories: Microneedles – a painless choice for diabetics

Picture of microneedles

Over 380 million people – more than five percent of the world’s population - live with diabetes. By 2035, this number is expected to rise to nearly 600 million. Most people with diabetes need to monitor glucose levels, but some find the process painful. Microneedles can help.

For two years Ascilion AB, together with the research institute RISE Acreo, have been developing microneedles that can be used to extract tissue fluid that, in conjunction with a sensor, offer a painless way of measuring glucose.

Microneedles are not new, but the combination of microneedles with a sensor is. A chip with both needles and an integrated sensor becomes the core in the glucose measurement device, which patients will be able to use at home. The combined extraction and measurement chip has over 200 hollow needles that extract tissue fluid, which is directed to the back of the chip where a sensor detects the glucose. The data will then be transferred to a mobile unit available for registration and analysis.

Markus Renlund, head of Ascilion AB, sums up the advantages: “Painless, blood-free, and protein-free – that’s what’s unique about this glucose measurement device.”

It’s painless because the needles are so short that they do not reach the sensory cells: the experience can be compared to holding a finger on a piece of sandpaper. It’s blood-free since the needles can’t reach the blood stream - and measuring glucose in tissue fluid is as reliable as measuring it within the blood. It’s protein-free because, unlike existing measuring devices, the sensor doesn’t contain enzymes, but is based on spectroscopy and is made of silicon - the material used in semiconductor circuits. In addition, silicon has no expiry date and can withstand temperature changes, which makes it easier to manufacture, transport and, store it.

The needles have, since the end of 2014, been manufactured by Silex Microsystems who has vast experience of manufacturing micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) products. The chips are estimated to cost a few SEK, the same price as glucose test strips today. A few years of development remains before the product will be on the market.

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