The Future of Diabetes Control and Self Care?

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Author: Kaivalya Tallam Edited by: Ruchi Maniar

With the recent epidemic in obesity, diabetes mellitus has been slowly increasing and is currently classified as one of the top ten deadly diseases by the World Health Organisation (1). Living with diabetes can often become tiresome as patients struggle with constant monitoring of their diet, lifestyle, and most importantly, their glucose levels. Public health aims to educate the wider public on this disease. However due to its chronic nature, patients can often find it difficult to stay on top of their health. This means that even the slightest miscalculation or mistake in treating and monitoring diabetes can translate into serious consequences for the patient, including brain damage or even death.

As diabetic patients have the added work of continuously maintaining an optimal blood glucose level along with their daily tasks, many healthcare professionals have taken it upon themselves to look for easier and better ways of managing medications and blood glucose levels. One such solution is the rise in technology that helps keep track of medical history and patient vitals. A study by a team at the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health found that storing or sharing self-monitored blood glucose using home telehealth tools such as PDAs or fax machines, supported with physician feedback, showed improved patient glycaemic levels and reduced hospitalizations (2). This research essentially provided the potential to revolutionise how patients monitor their health at home, having the capacity in the future to provide physician access to their results in real-time, to aid ongoing treatment.

Continuing on from self-monitoring, smart wearable technology has dramatically increased in popularity, helped by the likes of Apple and Samsung who have attempted to integrate wellbeing apps into their devices. Similarly, bioelectronic medicine is examining ways in which our human body could be coupled with simple mechanics to detect blood glucose levels in non-conventional ways.

One type of such technology is the skin patches currently being developed by Abbott and Eccrine Systems, Inc, called FreeStyle Libre system (3). In a nutshell, these skin patches measure blood glucose in sweat and automatically release a dose of insulin to correct high blood glucose. This is achieved by using a small sensor that is applied to the back of the upper arm. The sensor, which is the size of two stacked quarters, provides real-time glucose readings for up to ten days, both day and night. The data generated by the FreeStyle Libre system is designed to provide actionable trends and patterns that will ultimately guide patients to make informed decisions about their health, such as adjustments to their diet or how much insulin they need to take.

Another example of bioelectronic medicine in diabetes has been pioneered by Novartis who have teamed up with Google to build smart contact lenses. These contact lenses promise to assist diabetic patients by measuring their glucose levels. They can also correct vision as traditional contact lenses do. The smart contact lens will look like a regular set of contact lenses, but come with a sensor that can track the blood sugar level of the user non-invasively through their tears. The lens contains a tiny and an ultra slim microchip that is embedded in one of its thin concave sides. Through its equally minute antenna, the sensor will send data about the glucose measurements from the user’s tears to his or her paired smartphone via installed software (4).

When it comes to start-ups, DiabetesLab in Poland attempts to integrate artificial intelligence into a one-of-a-kind system to support patients with diabetes. DiabetesLab aims to track and detect the patient’s physical activity using a robot, and then to provide data-driven solutions by drawing up trends and patterns so that the patient can learn more about their condition (5). The software is currently undergoing beta-testing. Integrating artificial intelligence with real-time data feedback could fundamentally empower the diabetic patient to take better control of their condition and to become an expert of their own care.

In summary, these new ideas in technology discussed above can lend a helping hand to diabetic patients to efficiently and expertly manage their care. In the long run, innovation in self-monitoring in diabetes could result in fewer doctor visits and thus lower costs of treatment.All these new innovations can give a patient the best quality of life that medicine coupled with technology can provide. 

References

1. Top 10 Deadly Diseases in the World - AG Blog [Internet]. AG Blog. 2016 [cited 6 December 2017]. Available from: http://agscientific.com/blog/2016/04/top-10-deadly-diseases-in-the-world/

2. Smart Technology for Diabetes Self-Care - Diabetes Self-Management [Internet]. Diabetes Self-Management. 2016 [cited 6 December 2017]. Available from: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/diabetes-resources/tools-tech/smart-technology-diabetes-self-care/

3. Hi, FreeStyle Libre System. Bye, Routine Finger Sticks (1) [Internet]. Abbott.com. 2017 [cited 6 December 2017]. Available from: http://www.abbott.com/corpnewsroom/product-and-innovation/welcome-freestyle-libre.html

4. What Happened to the Smart Contact Lens for Diabetics? [Internet]. Labiotech.eu. 2015 [cited 6 December 2017]. Available from: https://labiotech.eu/contact-lens-glucose-diabetes/

5. DiabetesLab [Internet]. Startup Poland. 2017 [cited 6 December 2017]. Available from: http://startuppoland.org/en/startup/diabeteslab-2/