Type 1 diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in children and there is a rapid increase in the number affected each year. About 400,000 people in the UK are affected, 29,000 of them children. In type 1 diabetes, the body’s own immune system mistakes the insulin producing cells of the pancreas as harmful, attacks and then destroys them. The result is a lack of insulin, which is essential for transporting glucose from the blood into cells.
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There is a direct relationship between the amount of visceral adipose, or belly fat, a person has and development of some of the most common and life-threatening complications of obesity, including cardiovascular disease and the insulin resistance that leads to diabetes. What remained unclear, until recently, were the precise mechanisms for how the increase in belly fat triggers the onset of additional disease.
Blood testing is the standard option for checking glucose levels, but a new technology could allow non-invasive testing via a contact lens that samples glucose levels in tears. “There’s no noninvasive method to do this,” said Wei-Chuan Shih, a researcher with the University of Houston who worked with colleagues at UH and in Korea to develop the project, described in the high-impact journal Advanced Materials. “It always requires a blood draw. This is unfortunately the state of the art.”
But glucose is a good target for optical sensing, and especially for what is known as surface-enhanced Raman scattering spectroscopy, said Shih, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering whose lab, the NanoBioPhotonics Group, works on optical biosensing enabled by nanoplasmonics.
This is an alternative approach, in contrast to a Raman spectroscopy-based noninvasive glucose sensor Shih developed as a Ph.D. student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds two patents for technologies related to directly probing skin tissue using laser light to extract information about glucose concentrations.
The paper describes the development of a tiny device, built from multiple layers of gold nanowires stacked on top of a gold film and produced using solvent-assisted nanotransfer printing, which optimized the use of surface-enhanced Raman scattering to take advantage of the technique’s ability to detect small molecular samples.
Surface-enhanced Raman scattering – named for Indian physicist C.V. Raman, who discovered the effect in 1928 – uses information about how light interacts with a material to determine properties of the molecules that make up the material.
The device enhances the sensing properties of the technique by creating “hot spots,” or narrow gaps within the nanostructure which intensified the Raman signal, the researchers said.
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