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Working Towards an Implantable Glucose Sensor

August 27, 2019

My name is Melissa Grunlan and I am an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University. My area of research focuses on developing new polymer biomaterials to improve how current medical devices function or to make new medical devices as well as polymers that can be used for regenerative therapies. One of the most interesting projects, I think, that we’re working on right now
is the development of a self-cleaning membrane for a glucose biosensor. This would be a biosensor
that could be placed inside the body of a diabetic patient so that they could monitor
their glucose levels, their blood sugars, at all-time points during the day, during
the night. Right now what diabetics have to do is they take finger prick test where they
draw a blood sample and place it on a strip inside a glucose meter. This is encouraged
to be done maybe four times a day or more. Many patients don’t comply even with this
because it’s uncomfortable, its inconvenient or they just might forget. So having an implanted glucose biosensor that could continuously monitor your glucose levels would really revolutionize how diabetics monitor their blood sugar levels. What we’re trying to do, specifically with
the self-cleaning membrane, is to make the body accept and not reject a glucose sensor that’s implanted, let’s say, at the wrist just below the skin. So the body normally
has this built in mechanism to say okay, there’s a foreign body, in this case a sensor that
you’ve implanted in and the body says that shouldn’t be here so we’re going to seal
it off; we’re going to send in cells and proteins, and eventually that sensor is sealed off from the environment, glucose is no longer getting to the sensor, and finally the sensor
won’t work. So really the hurdle is a self-cleaning membrane that we’re trying to develop, so
this would enable the sensor to function over a long period of time. And so this self-cleaning membrane, it’s basically a hydrogel material, it’s like the material you see in your soft
contact lens, it’s very soft, hydrated, squishy like material. But what we’ve done
specifically is to use thermo responsive hydrogel, this is a hydrogel that when you heat it,
it collapses and when you cool it back to body temperature it re-swells. So the big
idea for this self-cleaning membrane is that you would wrap it around your glucose sensor,
it would be implanted just below the skin, subcutaneously, and the person would wear a watch-like device over their implant. Well this watch-like device would be the meter
that’s reading the glucose level signal that’s coming from the sensor, but it would
also have a heating element that would be attached to the watch. So periodically the
heating element would heat the skin, through the skin, the membrane would collapse and that process kicks off cells and proteins, that’s the cleaning process that the membrane goes through. And so when it cools back down it re-swells and then that newly cleaned membrane allows the glucose to diffuse through it to the sensor, and that diabetic patient then
can start to resume measuring their glucose levels.

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