The doctor takes from the child blood.
July 14, 2014

Microchip Uses Nanotechnology To Cheaply, Easily Diagnose Type-1 Diabetes

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine have developed an inexpensive and portable new device that uses nanotechnology to diagnose type-1 diabetes – a breakthrough they claim could improve patient care worldwide and help medical experts better understand the condition.

The inventors, who detailed their work Sunday in the journal Nature Medicine, explain that the purpose of their new handheld microchip is to detect type-1 diabetes in non-hospital settings. They claim it could speed up treatment and allow experts to analyze exactly how the disease develops.

According to the study authors, the unit is capable of distinguishing between the two main types of diabetes mellitus, which are both marked by high blood glucose levels but have different causes and treatments. Currently, determining between these requires a slow and expensive test that is only available in select healthcare facilities.

“With the new test, not only do we anticipate being able to diagnose diabetes more efficiently and more broadly, we will also understand diabetes better – both the natural history and how new therapies impact the body,” explained senior author and assistant pediatric endocrinology professor Dr. Brian Feldman.

Dr. Feldman and his colleagues argue that recent changes in the demographics for each form of the disease have made it difficult to categorize patients based solely on their age, ethnicity or weight. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that aggressively treating type-1 diabetes shortly after diagnosis improves a patient’s long-term prognosis, suggesting that healthcare providers could benefit greatly from improved testing for the disease.

“Decades ago, type-1 diabetes was diagnosed almost exclusively in children, and type-2 diabetes almost always in middle-aged, overweight adults,” the university said. “The distinction was so sharp that lab confirmation of diabetes type was usually considered unnecessary, and was often avoided because of the old test's expense and difficulty.” That has changed in recent years, however.

Dr. Feldman and his colleagues explain that, due to growing obesity levels in children, nearly one-fourth of all newly diagnosed youngsters actually have type-2 diabetes. Likewise, for reasons that are unknown at this time, type-1 diabetes diagnoses have been on the rise amongst adults.

“Type-1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease caused by an inappropriate immune-system attack on healthy tissue. As a result, patients' bodies stop making insulin, a hormone that plays a key role in processing sugar,” the university said. “The disease begins when a person's own antibodies attack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.”

“The auto-antibodies are present in people with type-1 but not those with type-2, which is how tests distinguish between them,” it added. “A growing body of evidence suggests that rapid detection of, and aggressive new therapies for, type-1 diabetes benefit patients in the long run, possibly halting the autoimmune attack on the pancreas and preserving some of the body's ability to make insulin.”

Scientists are discovering increasing amounts of evidence that by rapidly detecting and aggressively treating type-1 diabetes, doctors can help stop the autoimmune attack on the pancreas, thus helping the body preserve some of the body’s ability to produce insulin.

The old testing method used radioactive materials to detect the auto-antibodies – a process which took multiple days, cost several hundreds of dollars per patient and had to be performed by highly-trained professionals. Conversely, the new method does not use radioactivity, takes only a few minutes, requires little training to administer and is expected to cost approximately $20 for a chip that can be used for as many as 15 tests.

The microchip also uses far less blood than the older test, requiring just a finger prick instead of a laboratory-based blood draw, and relies on a fluorescent-based method of antibody detection. Nanoparticle-sized gold coats the base of each chip, intensifying the fluorescent signal and allow the antibodies to be detected, the study authors said. They are currently petitioning the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval of the device.

“In addition to new diabetics, people who are at risk of developing type-1 diabetes, such patients’ close relatives, also may benefit from the test because it will allow doctors to quickly and cheaply track their auto-antibody levels before they show symptoms,” the university explained. “Because it is so inexpensive, the test may also allow the first broad screening for diabetes auto-antibodies in the population at large.”

“There is great potential to capture people before they develop the disease, and prevent diabetes or prevent its complications by starting therapy early, but the old test was prohibitive for that type of thinking because it was so costly and time-consuming,” added Feldman. “We would like this to be a technology that satisfies global need.”

Image 2 (below): Brian Feldman is one of the inventors of a microchip-based test for diagnosing type-1 diabetes. Credit: Norbert von der Groeben, Stanford University School of Medicine


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