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The growing role of microelectronics in diabetes management

The daily life of diabetics is made of regular controls of blood sugar levels and insulin injections. Few diseases require so much attention. With diabetes, daily routines such as working, eating, and exercising take special preparation and involve learning how to plan for these everyday tasks. If the illness is not under control, there is a high risk of developing serious complications such as stroke, heart, eye and kidney disease and even amputation, not to mention also the psychological and emotional dimensions of this chronic disease. Fortunately, there have been continuous advances for glucose monitoring and insulin injection. Microelectronics is increasingly playing a key role in this evolution all the more so since connected devices are gaining in importance and will allow for even more effective diabetic management.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose from food get into your cells to be used for energy. Sometimes your body doesn’t make enough—or any—insulin or doesn’t use insulin well. Glucose then stays in your blood and doesn’t reach your cells. If too much glucose stays in the blood, it can cause damage to the blood vessels. This means that nerves and organs of the body won’t receive enough blood carrying oxygen and nutrients, and over a long time this can cause problems, such as nerve damage, eye damage and kidney damage. Monitoring and keeping track of blood glucose is crucial because it’s the main form of keeping diabetes under control.

What are the different types of diabetes?

The most common types of diabetes are type 1 or type 2. In type 1 the body does not make insulin. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, although it can appear at any age. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day to stay alive. In Type 2 diabetes the body does not make or does not use insulin well. It can be developed at any age, even during childhood. However, this type of diabetes occurs most often in middle-aged and older people. Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes.

How can new generation electronic devices simplify diabetics’ life and help them control their disease?

Keeping diabetes under control mainly involves two steps. The first being to measure the blood glucose level and the second to inject the accurate dose of insulin to maintain the glucose level within an acceptable range. Both steps are constraining so that the development of devices helping patients keeping both under control is of tremendous help.

1) Facilitating glucose monitoring:

Historically, diabetics have monitored their blood glucose concentration with a finger prick test. But repetitive finger pricking becomes painful, contributes to anxiety and is one of the main reason why patients refrain from self-monitoring blood glucose (SMBG). Alternative options have been developed to enable continuous glucose monitoring such as devices worn on the skin, using a sensor on a small needle to test glucose in interstitial fluid. These sensors can be worn from two weeks to three months which avoids the finger pricking step. Linked to a transmitter, they send the data to an external reading device or to a smartphone, which is very comforting as it allows for continuous monitoring and optimal timing and dosing of the insulin injections.

2) Facilitating insulin injection:

Most commonly, insulin is delivered using a needle injection or a syringe, an insulin pen, or an insulin pump. A syringe is the simplest device used for the injection of insulin, where the patients typically use disposable units to prevent contamination and infection. A major disadvantage of insulin injection devices is that they are designed to administer insulin only in large boluses, which can cause peaks and valleys in the blood sugar levels in patients. A solution to this problem of insulin shots is provided when using insulin pumps. These devices, which are worn outside of the patient’s body, can be programmed to deliver a steady supply of insulin throughout the day at a basal rate and programmed to deliver larger boluses of insulin before or after meals. The main advantage of insulin pumps is that the individuals do not need to take multiple injections every day, allowing them to continue with their daily actions without any problem.

How does Valtronic contribute to these advances?

With its experience in medical devices and its expertise in miniaturization, Valtronic has the competences that allow to design, develop and manufacture the next generation of diabetes monitoring and insulin injection devices that will considerably improve the life of insulin dependent diabetics. Recently, Valtronic developed the SmartCap, a cap that can fit to any disposable injection pen and make it smart. It provides accurate data on the dose injected and on the date and time of the injection. This is very reassuring for diabetics who have the constraint of noting everything down to keep their illness under control. The cap is moreover linked to an application via Bluetooth which allows to share the data with caretakers and doctors. With its experience in drug delivery, including for insulin injections, Valtronic is currently working on the development of next generation devices projects. Miniaturized and connected devices, such as implants will considerably improve diabetics’ everyday comfort and Valtronic is proud to contribute to these improvements.

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