Scientists have developed a wristband sweat sensor that can diagnose diabetes.
The device collects sweat, measures its molecular constituents and then electronically transmits the results for analysis and diagnosis via a smartphone.
It has been designed by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, who developed it in collaboration with the University of California-Berkeley.
Four million Brits have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Hundreds of thousands more people in the UK are feared to have the condition but do not know it.
Carlos Milla, MD, associate professor of paediatrics at Stanford, said: “This is a huge step forward.”
The wearable sweat sensor allows for frequent monitoring to see how diabetes patients respond to a treatment or if they’re complying with treatment.
Prof Milla added: “It’s a little like the old days when people with diabetes had to come into a clinic to get their glucose monitored. The real revolution came when people started to do their own finger stick, and nowadays you can even do it with continuous monitors.”
Details of the breakthrough are to be published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The two-part system of flexible sensors and microprocessors sticks to the skin, stimulates the sweat glands and then detects the presence of different molecules and ions based on their electrical signals.
The team used the wearable sweat sensor to compare levels of glucose in sweat to that in blood.
High blood glucose levels can indicate diabetes.
The wearable device is robust and can be run with a smartphone, which can send measurements to a cloud and receive results right back after review at a specialised centre.
Prof Milla explained: “You can get a reading anywhere in the world.”
The device could potentially be useful for monitoring pre-diabetes and those diagnosed with diabetes.
But the technology can also be used to measure other molecular constituents of sweat, such as chloride ion levels – high levels are an indicator of cystic fibrosis.
The platform can be used to measure virtually anything found in sweat.
Prof Ronald Davis, professor of biochemistry and of genetics at Stanford who was also involved in the development of the wearable sensor, said:
“Sweat is hugely amenable to wearable applications and a rich source of information.”
It is not known how quickly the wearable sweat sensor could be rolled out.
But the team is now working on integrating the wristband sensor into a smartwatch for use by millions of people worldwide.
Former Stanford postdoctoral scholar Sam Emaminejad, also involved in the research, added: “In the longer term, we want to integrate it into a smartwatch format for broad population monitoring.”