UW researchers develop pain-free device for diabetic patients

Graphic by Candice Cheng


Researchers from UW’s Centre for Intelligent Antenna and Radio Systems and Wireless Sensors and Devices Lab have developed a revolutionary device that could be life-changing for people with diabetes. The palm-sized device uses radar and artificial intelligence (AI) to non-invasively read blood vitals inside the human body.

The new device helps people with diabetes monitor their glucose levels without painful finger pricks.

“The key advantage is simply no pricking,” George Shaker, an engineering professor at Waterloo, said in a media release. “That is extremely important for a lot of people, especially elderly people with very sensitive skin and children who require multiple tests throughout the day.”

To use the device, users simply place their fingertip on the touchpad of the device. Radio waves are sent through the skin and into the blood vessels before reflecting back to the device for the AI software to process and analyze. Within seconds, the device will tell users whether their blood sugar levels have increased, decreased or remained stable. 

Users would need a regular glucometer or laboratory blood tests every few weeks to compare with the device’s readings for accuracy.

Researchers expect the device could be commercially available in a few years. While currently exploring options for commercialization, they estimate the device would retail for less than $500. They even say the device could be available in a wearable form like a smartwatch that patients could wear at all times and receive glucose alerts similar to breathing and heart rate sensing.

“This finding paves the way for continuous monitoring,” Shaker said. “Given the current pace of progress, I expect the technology to be available in a wearable form within the next couple of years.”

For diabetes patients, who prick their skin several times per day to release a drop of blood for testing using a glucometer device, the revolutionary new technology is a non-invasive alternative.

“Our safe, reusable, pain-free device would eliminate the need for implanted sensors, patches or devices that use chemical reactions or fluid transfer through the skin,” Ala Eldin Omer, an engineering PhD student who led the project said.

Engineering professor Safieddin (Ali) Safavi-Naeini said that “The science used in creating the device has several other potential applications. Since many ingredients of blood have distinct electromagnetic properties, the same technology could be extended to other types of blood analysis and medical diagnosis”.

This new technology has great potential to make multiple medical procedures safer and less invasive.

The full research paper on the device, Low‑cost portable microwave sensor for non‑invasive monitoring of blood glucose level: novel design utilizing a four‑cell CSRR hexagonal configuration (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-72114-3.pdf), can be read online in Scientific Reports, a Nature Research journal.


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