Sep. 5, 2012 at 7:39 PM ET
Those suffering from diabetes must also suffer the frequent pain of drawing blood by a pinprick on the finger. A tiny new implant built by Dutch medical researchers could mean that this inconvenient method for checking blood sugar will no longer be necessary. For that matter, it may make such tests obsolete entirely.
The breakthrough was in miniaturizing the sensor, allowing it to be applied easily and non-invasively on the body. As Tom Zimmerman of Fraunhofer IMS, which contributed to the research, explains in the press release describing the invention:
In the past, you used to need a circuit board the size of a half-sheet of paper. And you also had to have a driver. But even these things are no longer necessary with our new sensor.
Everything is included in the sensor, which is so small it could easily fit under a fingernail, and can detect glucose levels in fluids other than blood, for example sweat or tears. Despite being just 0.5-by-2 millimeters, it has a glucose level sensor, an analog-to-digital converter to create a signal intelligible by a computer system, and a wireless interface, all powered by a tiny battery. Each sensor could last for weeks, even months, and can actually receive power through radio waves, further reducing the amount it needs to store.
The sensor itself was developed by Noviosens, a Dutch firm that specializes in medical technology; Fraunhofer added the diagnostic system. The firm claims it can be manufactured cost-effectively, and could be paired with something like a mobile phone app or even an automatic insulin pump that would dispense exactly the amount needed.
Fraunhofer did not immediately return an inquiry regarding how close the device is to actual use with patients. This article will be updated to reflect any further information received from the research organization.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.