Bioengineering students at Clemson University have come up with a new way for diabetics to test blood sugar that officials say could make the process much less expensive here and in poorer countries.
Using parts they found in electronics stores, the students developed new test strips and a glucose meter that function like conventional equipment to measure the glucose level in a drop of blood so diabetics know when to take insulin.
But the students designed an inkjet printer to shoot enzymes instead of ink so that strips can be produced for about 1 cent each compared to commercial strips which cost many times more, some as much as $1 each, officials said.
The students came up with the idea while working on a larger project to improve conditions for people in Tanzania. In addition to the diabetes equipment, they have introduced a low-cost infant warmer as well as affordable grass-woven neck braces, officials said.
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“What excites me most about this is it puts the technology in the hands of the people who are in need,” said senior Tyler Ovington of Greenville.
“It empowers them to provide themselves with health care and make the standard of health care that we have in the U.S. more ubiquitous across the world to give all populations a fair chance at a life.”
With prototypes in hand, the students are seeking approvals both in the U.S. and Tanzania for distribution and human testing, officials said.
“The long-term goal would be to get approval from the U.S. FDA so that we can use it here because there are plenty of diabetics in the United States that can’t afford to do frequent testing themselves,” said doctoral candidate Kayla Gainey.
“In resource-poor settings here and abroad, this work could be transformative,” said Delphine Dean, associate professor of bioengineering. “It will empower patients to monitor their blood sugar levels.”
Diabetes is a big problem in Tanzania, but donated test strips and glucose meters haven’t helped because they don’t match, so patients go without testing, she said.
And uncontrolled diabetes can lead to dangerous complications such as kidney disease, blindness, stroke and amputations, according to the American Diabetes Association.
In the U.S. alone, some 19 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes, the ADA reports. Another 7 million are believed to have the disease but don’t know it.
Gainey, a Type 1 diabetic, brings her personal experience to the project as she works on the glucose meter’s electrical system.
“You know how the person is going to use it,” the Sumter student 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.”