Could the University of Missouri’s Noninvasive Glucose Monitor Revolutionize Diabetes Care?

Posted by Shana Leonard on April 5, 2011
Xu Zhi and his team developed a noninvasive glucose monitor that uses near-infrared light to detect glucose levels without the need for drawing blood.

For years—decades even—researchers have fervently sought the Holy Grail of diabetes care: the noninvasive glucose monitor. But despite dedicated research and even a briefly commercialized product, a viable noninvasive monitoring technology has remained somewhat elusive. There’s new hope on the horizon, however.  Researchers at the University of Missouri–St. Louis have developed a portable, inexpensive noninvasive blood-glucose detector and have licensed patent rights to St. Louis Medical Devices Inc. to bring the device to market.

Developed by a team led by associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry Xu Zhi, the noninvasive glucose monitor is compact, portable, and convenient, according to the researchers. More importantly, it enables pain-free glucose monitoring that does not require the user to draw blood or break skin in any way. Producing no waste in the form of strips or lancets, the monitor detects glucose levels using near-infrared (NIR) light. “It tests blood characteristics by shining near-infrared light through the finger, detecting the light transmitted through the targeted area, and generating an output signal,” according to a university press release. “A processor receives the output signals, calculates a change in the magnitude of light-power transmitted through the finger, and determines a characteristic of blood – in this case glucose.”

While a substantial amount of research has focused on measuring glucose levels optically through the skin, Zhi believes that his team has succeeded where others have struggled or failed.  “Unlike other non-invasive monitors in development, this technology provides for detection in just one second; it’s portable, accurate and inexpensive; it measures glucose in blood rather than interstitial fluid without the need to average multiple readings; and it does not require any moving parts,” Zhi says. “There have been 25 years of attempts to create such a noninvasive glucose monitor. I think we’ve done it.”

Zhi’s confidence in the team’s noninvasive glucose monitor and potential for commercialization are exciting. Could this device, then, finally usher in the long-awaited era of noninvasive glucose monitoring?

Let’s not count our chickens before they’re hatched; it can be a long and tortuous road to commercialization, after all. But, I’m cautiously optimistic that, if Zhi has, in fact, overcome common obstacles associated with other optical monitoring methods, this could be the technology the industry and diabetics alike have been waiting for.  Noninvasive glucose monitoring has the potential to dramatically change diabetes management and improve patient care and quality of life as well. --Shana Leonard