When Elaine Staunton was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in her 30s, her lifestyle completely changed.
- A saliva glucose biosensor is a plastic strip coated with a natural enzyme
- When licked, the sensor interacts with saliva, revealing highly accurate glucose levels
- The Australian-developed technology could benefit the 460 million people living with diabetes globally
“You’ve just got to be very regimented,” Ms Staunton said. “You have to watch what you eat. You have to make sure you do some exercise. You have to be very aware of your choices.”
With a family history of the disease, the diagnosis did not come as a shock, but what did take her by surprise was the stigma.
At a work function, Ms Staunton was victimised for her medical condition, which requires monitoring her blood glucose levels, which are then controlled by insulin injections.
“I’ve always been taught to do my insulin when my meal’s in front of me,” Ms Staunton told ABC Newcastle.
“I was absolutely devastated. I cried all the way home and made the decision on the way home that I couldn’t go back there.”
Now in her 50s, Ms Staunton is overjoyed that finger-prick testing of blood glucose could soon become obsolete, with the commercial production of an Australian-developed saliva test.
“That would be marvellous if we could get that, especially for children.” she said.
“If you’ve got a little child with diabetes … I just can’t imagine how much people’s lives would change.
Funding to roll out manufacturing
Development of the “world-first, pain-free diabetes test” follows 20 years of research by an University of Newcastle team led by Professor Paul Dastoor.
The Australian government has announced $6.3million in funding to build a manufacturing facility for the tests in the Hunter region by the end of 2023.
“What we’ve done is to develop a way of creating biosensors, that we can print using reel-to-reel printing equipment,” Professor Dastoor said.
The “lickable” saliva glucose biosensor works by coating a plastic strip with a natural enzyme that interacts with saliva, producing an electrical current.
This current can be detected and measured to reveal highly accurate glucose levels that can be delivered via a smart phone app.
“We’re able to test and have sensitivities at the concentration levels that glucose is in your saliva,” Professor Dastoor said.
Thanks to the Australian government’s Modern Manufacturing Initiative, the technology will be rolled on a commercial scale.
The new technology could benefit more than 460 million people globally who live with diabetes.
Positive health outcomes
Living with type 2 diabetes will still require management via medication and, in some cases, the injection of insulin.
However, Ms Staunton said, anything that reduced the need draw blood up to four times and day would be a welcome relief.
“That’s a big thing, no blood,” she said.
Ms Staunton also hoped the new technology would reduce the need to carry around testing equipment.
“It can you know weigh you down, carrying everything around with you all the time,” Ms Staunton said.
Professor Dastoor said making blood glucose tests obsolete would have positive health outcomes.
The inspiration for the technology came from Professor Dastoor’s’ wife, a primary school teacher who would help young children monitor their glucose levels throughout the day.
“It’s a heartbreaking scenario, where the lunch bell rings and everyone runs to the playground bar an unfortunate few, who stay back to surrender their finger for blood testing at every meal time.
“Our vision was to create a world where no one needs to bleed in order to eat.”