Color-Change Lenses Check Blood Sugar

ByABC News
April 18, 2003, 11:45 AM

April 22 -- For diabetics, monitoring the amount of sugar in their blood is a crucial task that can be a literal pain in the finger.

And for years, doctors and researchers have been trying to develop less-intrusive glucose monitoring aids that don't require patients to stick themselves with needles to draw blood for testing.

But the latest research from scientists and doctors may lead to a device that helps diabetics keep watch on their glucose just by looking into any mirror.

Sanford Ascher, a professor of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, has been studying "photonic crystals" materials that signal the presence of certain chemicals by changing colors. And for the last three years, he and a team of researchers at the university have been experimenting with a photonic crystal that can detect glucose.

How It Works

The team's research is expected to be released in the May 1 edition of Analytical Chemistry, a publication of the American Chemical Society. But Ascher and other chemists say how the material works is fairly simple.

The photonic crystal is actually a gel made up of a proprietary combination of boronic acid and other chemicals. The chemicals form an array of long polymer chains, which contain receptors that bind to the structure of glucose.

The molecular spacing between the chains in the array changes as it comes into contact with glucose. The changes in spacing and volume of the array effectively alter how light passes through the material.

High concentrations of glucose produce spacing that causes light to refract, or bend, to produce a purple color. Low glucose would refract the light to produce a reddish color. Normal glucose levels would produce a green color.

Distinctive Diabetic Diagnostics

If the material can be used in a contact lens, it would detect the glucose carried in human tears, Ascher says.

"The ideal is that it's on the bottom edge of the lens and the diabetic patient would look in a mirror and see a color and relate it to a color wheel to [determine the] concentration of glucose," says Ascher.