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Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 18:04 GMT 19:04 UK
'Wristwatch' to monitor diabetes
GlucoWatch
The GlucoWatch could make life easier for diabetics
Diabetics could soon be able to monitor their condition using a device attached to their wrist - avoiding the need for regular finger prick tests.

The frequent, painful tests to monitor blood sugar levels could become a thing of the past when the device comes on the market.



It's data that's never been available before

Steven Edelman, University of California, San Diego
The GlucoWatch is worn on the wrist and sits on top of a disposable gel disc containing the same enzyme used to monitor glucose levels in home monitors.

Instead of testing blood directly, it draws glucose into the disc using a tiny electric current flowing between two terminals beneath the watch.

Charged molecules move towards the electrodes as the current passes through the skin, dragging glucose molecules along with them.

Frequent blood sugar monitoring helps detect excessively high or low levels that can lead to blindness, kidney failure and nerve damage.

Inconvenient and painful

But as the traditional finger prick tests are inconvenient and painful, some diabetics prefer not to do them more than once or twice a day, running the risk of developing complications.

The GlucoWatch takes three hours to "warm up" and one finger prick test is then required to calibrate the device.

The watch then monitors glucose levels every 20 minutes over a 12-hour period, and sounds a bleep if they become too high or low.

Steven Edelman, a diabetes specialist at the school of medicine, University of California, San Diego, has worn the device and said it revealed his blood sugar levels fell dangerously low at night.

He said: "It's data that's never been available before. I really learned a tremendous amount."

Manufacturer Cygnus, based in Redwood City, California, is close to achieving final approval for the watch from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Not a replacement

The device, which will cost $300, will then be marketed as an addition, not a replacement, to standard blood sugar monitoring methods.

However, Satish Garg of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, told New Scientist magazine: "That's not real life." He is concerned that diabetics will put themselves at risk by relying solely on the device.

And he fears it may be provided to young children, though trials have only been carried out on adults.

A spokesman for the British Diabetic Association said: "If it is proven to be reliable, it would be a great advance for people with diabetes because it is less intrusive and less painful, and it gives a more constant flow of information."

But diabetics would need to know what action to take to respond to warnings that levels were too high or too low.

And he added: "In its initial stages, until its reliability is established, it is important that people don't just put their faith in the one system."

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