A Better Life for Diabetics

A tiny sensor under the skin can track your blood sugar level quickly and painlessly.

Over a million people in the UAE suffer from diabetes, and the number continues to rise at a rapid rate compared to the rest of the region and the world.

While doctors and scientists search for clues as to why, technology experts are working on new, efficient ways for diabetics to manage their disease. One such solution: a millimeter-sized implantable sensor that can continuously track a patient's blood sugar level and process the results quickly via an app.

Self-monitoring, or continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), is essential for diabetic patients because it helps with diagnostics, prevention, and treatment of diabetes-related conditions such as kidney disease and heart problems. Unlike conventional, wearable CGM sensors, which need to be replaced regularly, implantable sensors are much smaller, wireless, and can potentially operate for multiple years.

About the size of a grain of sand, “the sensors we’re developing are among the smallest in the world,” said Sohmyung Ha, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NYU Abu Dhabi. “We use semiconductor fabrication technology to miniaturize all the required electronics into (a) single sensor.”

The sensors we’re developing are among the smallest in the world.

Sohmyung Ha

The sensors be equipped with everything required to measure glucose levels from start to finish, including electrodes for electrochemical sensing of glucose in the extracellular fluid, and antennas for wireless power and communication.

The sensor, explains Ha, will be implanted under the skin (subcutaneously) right below a smartwatch or digital belt that will receive the signals transmitted by the implant and relay the information via an app to the patient or to healthcare providers who can then monitor the patient’s glucose levels remotely. He hopes it will be more efficient and comfortable than the current practice of pricking a finger and testing blood using portable glucose monitoring kits at home, possibly replacing the need for these kinds of kits entirely.

The main component of the sensors will be silicon integrated circuit chips, and the implants will be coated with a biocompatible material to prevent the body’s immune system from rejecting them.

It’s still early in the design stage.

The research team at NYU Abu Dhabi has been designing an integrated circuit in the sensor for about a year, and is hopeful fabrication will start soon.

Ha’s glucose sensors incorporate some of the technology he developed during his previous work on neural sensors, which his lab is also working to perfect. These neural sensors can be utilized as a crucial component of a brain-computer interface for patients suffering from paralysis, Ha explains, where they can “control external devices just by thinking.”

“These implants on the surface of our brain record and send out brain signals to an external device wirelessly ... We can utilize that information to control external devices like a computer or robotic arm. We fabricated several prototypes and validated them electronically. Now, we are working on the next version for in vivo brain research.”