08 Oct 2012
New Delhi, India.
Testing blood sugar levels will soon take just about a minute, cost less than Rs 2 and require 1,000 times lesser blood than what glucose meters use now.
In what will be a real boon for a majority of India’s 61 million diabetics, many of whom have to constantly check their blood sugar levels, Indian scientists have cracked the need for a lowcost superfast diabetes testing device.
The test, created by scientists from BITS Pilani, has passed the final evaluation conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The evaluation was supervised by a panel of experts including the director general of ICMR where it was confirmed that the test and diagnostic tool actually works.
The prototype of India’s indigenous glucometer will be ready by December, and will then be tested in a month–long multi–centre efficacy study in various labs before the technology is transferred for mass production to the market.
The health ministry has long been promising the development of the elusive Rs 5 diabetic testing chip. Now, it seems it will cost even lesser. The team is also applying for a patent on the technology.
Dr Suman Kapur, chief developer of the diagnostic tool, said the testing and results will take less than 10 seconds. "The whole procedure from finger pricking to loading the blood sample to the results may take up to a minute."
Dr Kapur, who is a professor of biological sciences at BITS–Pilani, said, "The final evaluation took place on August 6 and we have been given the go–ahead to create the prototype which will be ready latest by December. We showed the ICMR led panel that it works. Most such devices need to undergo multi–centre trials. So once the prototype is delivered, ICMR will commission studies in various labs to confirm the technology. Once through, we will either produce the machine ourselves or transfer the technology to a third party for mass production and introduction into the market."
By 2030, India's diabetes burden is expected to cross the 100 million mark. The country also has the largest contributor to regional mortality with 983,000 deaths attributable to the disease last year.
Interestingly, the latest test will not require repeated use of testing strips. This low–cost rapid test will be a boon for India which plans to test five crore people for diabetes by the end of this year. India plans to screen all adult males above 30 years of age and pregnant women of all age groups for diabetes and hypertension in 100 districts across 21 states.
Dr Kapur said, "Our device is as handy as a glucometer but with a different chemistry. The major aim was to make a pocket–size glucose testing device that is affordable and can be used for mass screening. Diabetics are required to test their blood often, each time costing around Rs 25. Our test will bring the cost down to below Rs 2. Also we will require just 1 or 2 picolitre of blood which is 1,000 times lower that what is required now."
So how will the new device work? "Once we prick the finger with a needle, the red blood cells from the blood that flows in will be trapped and the plasma will be allowed to pass through. The machine will react right there and produce a colour corresponding to glucose levels. We are using nano particles to intensify the colour using a colour to frequency censor. Then, the reading will show up on the device. The major advancement will be on the sensitivity," said Dr Kapur, who is also dean of research at BITS–Pilani.
She said the test has been successfully tried with human samples. "We are working on the reading device which will be the size of a cellphone. Instead of strips that glucometers use now, our machine will use a capillary (small hollow pie) which will cost Rs 2 every time a diabetic tests h/his blood," she added.
Dr Chandra Sekhar from ICMR said, "We are waiting for the actual model of the instrument or the prototype. We are presently clinically validating the technology. By early next year, it should be ready for mass production."
Sources said when ICMR negotiated with companies for a million diabetes strips, the lowest quote it received was Rs 13 per strip. "If this comes down to less than Rs 2, it will be a massive breakthrough," an official said.
International Diabetes Federation said India's prevalence of diabetes among 20–79 year olds is 9.2%. IDF's latest diabetes atlas said, "India will face one of the toughest struggles against diabetes in the region. India also accounts for most of the 112,000 children in the region with Type–1 diabetes."