Newcastle team develops world-first lickable diabetes test, rendering finger pricks obsolete

When Elaine Staunton was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in her 30s, her lifestyle completely changed.

“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. 

Elaine Staunton says a saliva-based glucose test would be “marvellous, especially for children”.(

Supplied: Elaine Staunton


“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.

A man holds up a printed sheet of biosensors to the light through a window
Professor Paul Dastoor holds up a roll of biosensors, produced in sheets using 3D printers.(

Supplied: University of Newcastle


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.

Close up image of an individual biosensor held on a gloved finger tip.
A saliva glucose biosensor strip can be used to measure glucose levels with high accuracy.(

Supplied: University of Newcastle


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.

Five team members of a team in a lab holding an unfurled roll of printed biosensors
The bioesnsor team (from left) Dr Pankaj Kumar, Dr Nathan Cooling, Dr Daniel Elkington, Professor Paul Dastoor and Dr Swee Lu Lim.(

Supplied: University of Newcastle


“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.”

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