Cardiff scientists co-create diabetes ‘early warning’ biosensor

17 June 2016

Obesity anonymous

Scientists at Cardiff University are helping to develop an early warning biosensor for Type 2 diabetes, which would give people a crucial window of opportunity to change their lifestyle and help prevent or delay onset of the disease.

The new diagnostic system, being created by teams at Nottingham Trent University and Cardiff, is capable of measuring specific molecules in the blood which are a predictor of diabetes.

It is hoped the technology will help to reduce morbidity and mortality linked to Type 2 diabetes, as well as the cost to the NHS, which currently stands at almost £10 million per day. The disease – which affects an estimated four million people in the UK alone – is the fifth most common cause of death globally.

Hand holding syringe

The new biosensor, which would operate as a simple point-of-care finger prick test, would inform people of their predisposition to developing Type 2 diabetes within the subsequent five years. This early intervention would provide enough time to make vital adjustments in diet and lifestyle behaviour, the scientists say.

The technology combines ultra-fine spider web-like fabrics and small fluid channels in the form of a disposable plastic strip. This ‘nano material’ has been modified to produce a signal when exposed to blood containing higher than normal concentrations of certain predictor molecules, or ‘biomarkers’, which are known to indicate an early manifestation of Type 2 diabetes.

A prototype is being developed as part of the work, which has been funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the Welsh Government.

Professor Ian Weeks, of Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, said: “There are many new biomarkers of various diseases being discovered as a result of ongoing research, but the challenge is the development of methods to allow them to be easily and accurately measured.

“In addition to diagnosing disease these are particularly important for prediction and prognosis of disease, as well as in ‘precision medicine’ which more accurately informs the best treatment for patients.”

Bob Stevens, Professor of Smart Materials and Devices in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology, said: “Due to factors such as people living longer, sedentary lifestyles and obesity, the number of people with Type 2 diabetes is growing by seven percent a year.

“It’s hugely important that steps are taken to address this major health issue, and we have the technology here to help make a difference. We will be able to give people an opportunity to change their diets, their lifestyle and make a positive impact to healthy ageing. In addition to this, the savings to the NHS could be enormous.”