Clemson team developing cheap diabetes monitoring [Anderson Independent Mail, S.C. :: ]
(Anderson Independent-Mail (SC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 14--CLEMSON -- A research team of Clemson University faculty and students have come up with a cheap way for diabetics in the developing world to monitor their blood sugar. The technology could improve quality of life for diabetes sufferers around the globe and reduce public spending on the treatment of related diseases.
Bioengineering professor Delphine Dean and her Creative Inquiry students are working with health ministry officials in Tanzania, a nation of 44 million on Africa's east coast. It's among the world's poorest countries, with an average per capita income of $800, according to The Economist magazine. Clemson students and faculty have visited the country regularly for the last few years to work on projects with health officials.
Diabetes rates there have doubled in the last three decades and are projected to climb.
"Tanzanian hospitals have big problems treating diabetics," explained Dean. "Either they don't have glucometers or the strips they have don't match with the glucometers ... our students got the idea to print strips and over the last year we've really starting working together (with Tanzanian health officials)."
Developing economies struggle with even the most rudimentary health care, so pricey treatments such as diabetes monitoring are rare. Untreated diabetes leads to heart and kidney disease, blindness and several other conditions which shorten lives and are expensive to treat.
Commercially available diabetes testing strips in the U.S. and Europe can sell for up to $50 for a box of 50, and glucometers retail for $20 and up depending on the model. Public and private insurers spend billions annually on diabetes care, money that countries like Tanzania couldn't begin to spend.
"Normally, strips cost about $1 apiece and some patients test five times a day," said Dean. "That adds up to lots of times."
The Clemson researchers reasoned that routine monitoring of Type 1 and 2 diabetes would save countries like Tanzania billions annually in health costs. That led them to investigate using desktop printers to make testing strips as needed for use in cheap glucometers. Even in countries like Tanzania, hospitals have computers and printers.
After a year-plus of trial and error, they have arrived at a process that makes testing strips for about one penny apiece. Enzymes, stored in regular inkjet cartridges, are sprayed on ordinary, non-glossy printer paper. Users cut up the paper into test strips and load them into glucometers that can be built with parts sourced at any Radio Shack. One cartridge full of the enzymes should yield up to 4,000 strips that would be good for several weeks.
The enzymes react with a drop of a patient's blood and let sensors show blood-sugar levels.
"It is low tech," said Kayla Gainey, a doctoral candidate from Sumter. "There are no special power requirements and anybody can be taught to use a printer and cut out the strips. They don't have to be sterile and you can print up to 100 on a piece of (8.5" by 11") paper."
Gainey said the glucometer technology they use was common in the devices over a decade ago, but it still works fine. She should know, as she lives with Type 1 diabetes. That firsthand knowledge helped develop the glucometer to be used in Tanzania.
"You know how the person is going to use it," she said. "It adds to things like how it opens and closes or the shape of the strip or the way you administer the blood drop."
Tanzania's health ministry has established clinics across the country that treat nearly one-third of its diabetics with free or highly subsidized care, according to The Economist.
"The idea is for the clinics to print out the strips for patients," Dean said. "Hopefully, in the next year we get it deployed."
The process will have to be tested and approved by Tanzanian regulators, and Dean said there are plans to do human testing on campus later this year. The technology will comply with global ISO standards, to broaden its use.
"That would help us provide access to this to other countries ... this is a problem in a lot of other places, too," Gainey said.
American suppliers have also expressed some interest in the team's work.
"We are doing that right now," said Dean. "I've been surprised in the amount of interest we've gotten from industry here in the state."
The researchers are gratified that their work could be put to use on a large scale very soon, in an area that very much needs it.
"What excites me most about this is it puts the technology in the hands of the people who are in need," said team member Tyler Ovington, a senior from Greenville.
The technology is featured at www.youtube.com/watch?v=sz0XbMD_4g0&feature=em-share_video_user.
--347 million people worldwide have diabetes.
--In 2004, an estimated 3.4 million people died worldwide of consequences of high fasting blood sugar.
--More than 80 percent of diabetes deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, like Tanzania.
--Diabetes will be the 7th leading cause of death worldwide by 2030.
--50 percent of people with diabetes die of heart disease or stroke.
--1 percent of global blindness can be attributed to diabetes.
--Diabetes is among the leading causes of kidney failure.
--The overall risk of dying among diabetics is at least double the risk of nondiabetics.
Information provided by the World Health Organization
Follow Michael Eads on Twitter @MikeEads_AIM
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