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Lab-on-a-Chip measures insulin level for Type 2 diabetes

Distinguished Professor Geoff Chase, from New Zealand’s University of Canterbury (UC) College of Engineering, is working on world-first insulin sensor technology to enable ‘right now’ measurement for patients managing type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. It happens when blood sugar levels rise due to problems with the use or production of insulin.

According to a recent press release, the development of insulin measurement technology will allow doctors and patients to make better informed decisions on treatment immediately.

The Problem

People can find their blood sugar level from the well-known finger stick test and a glucometer. However, insulin can currently only be measured in a lab.

Point-of-Care insulin testing is difficult because there is no known chemical reaction to test for. Unlike glucose, insulin has no polarised charge.

It does not carry voltage or respond to magnetic fields, radio frequency or microwaves. Thus, it is something of a “stealth” molecule in terms of detection.

The Distinguished Professor is working with the Director of the University’s Biomolecular Interaction Centre; a postdoctoral fellow from Electrical and Computer Engineering; and a Mechanical Engineering Senior Lecturer.

The Solution

They are working together to develop Lab-on-a-Chip technology using micro-fluidics, specialised bio-receptors, and novel micro-electro-mechanical-system (MEMS) technology modelling to detect insulin in a sample fluid.

The fixed volume of the liquid will stick to the microchip allowing the rest to run off.

This changes the mass and thickness of the MEMS array elements which in turn lets them ‘see’ that mass of insulin by the way it changes the dynamic properties of the MEMS device arrays.

The project is funded by the National Science Challenge: Science for Technological Innovation.

Finding a key measurement of insulin in the body at Point-of-Care is part of a suite of technologies being developed for the management of type 2 diabetes.

Currently, insulin measurement requires lab processing of a blood sample, which takes 1-3 days for a result.

The process and delay makes the test only beneficial to initially diagnose type 2 diabetes, and not for managing continued care.

Not knowing the insulin levels leads the patients to guess. They tend to run into problems and will often give up on treatment because the risk of injecting too much insulin is too high.

With this sensor, the patient will be able to know their insulin level and safely dose, reducing that risk.

Distinguished Professor Chase has 19 years’ experience working with medical practitioners. He likes the opportunity of seeing the work he does to broadly have an impact.

The ultimate accolade is to see something get taken up and see the science applied to human benefit.


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