Scientists have recently created a graphene-based wearable patch that can accurately monitor and combat diabetes painlessly through human sweat. When perfected, this wearable patch will provide a new way to monitor and treat diabetes as opposed to the current method of finger pricking.

The wearable patch detects the glucose levels in the wearer's sweat. Past research has shown that sweat-based glucose reflects accurate glucose levels in the blood. In the new method, the wearable device was found to be able to monitor glucose levels as well as administer metformin, a diabetes drug, through the skin. It can also reduce high levels of glucose in mice.

The researchers made the graphene-based patch by combining graphene and gold particles. Graphene was chosen because of its wide usage in wearable electronics. It is a very thin, soft, flexible and transparent material.

The device has glucose-detecting sensors and a system of micro-needles that deliver metformin through the skin. When high glucose levels are detected in the wearer's sweat, the embedded heaters will command the micro-needles system to deliver the drug.

"Our wearable GP-based device is capable of not only sweat-based glucose and pH monitoring but also controlled transcutaneous drug delivery through temperature-responsive microneedles," says KIM Dae-Hyeong, a Center for Nanoparticle Research scientist.

The wearable patch was tested on two male participants without diabetes. After the participants ate a meal, the device accurately detected the change in glucose levels. In the mice study, the researchers showed the micro-needle and metformin systems were able to lower glucose levels.

Study co-author Hyunjae Lee from the Seoul-based Institute for Basic Science in Korea said the research team is interested in making the wearable patch available commercially. However, further studies are needed before it can be used by diabetes patients. Pharmaceutical sciences professor Richard Guy from the University of Bath in the UK agrees with Lee.

"Some important questions still need to be answered before the technology can be translated into practical use," he writes in the editorial that accompanied the new study, which was published in the Nature Nanotechnology on Monday, March 21. Guy was not involved in the study.

American researchers have previously developed a digital system that uses a smartphone to treat diabetes, but their Asian counterparts are using a different approach. To date, however, it is not clear if the sensors will work for a long period of time or if the patch will work when the user emitted a lot of sweat due to exercise.

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