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"Bloodless Coup" -- The Discovery Files

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Engineers at Brown University have designed a biological device that can measure glucose concentrations in human saliva. The technique could eliminate the need for diabetics to draw blood to check their glucose levels.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Stop the Bleeding.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

For the millions with diabetes, the ritual of drawing blood to check glucose levels is a fact of life. But at Brown University, engineers have been wondering: Could there be a way to accurately measure glucose levels using only saliva? The concentration of glucose in human saliva is about a hundred times lower than in blood. So to measure it, they'd have to develop an ultra-sensitive device. Which is exactly what they've done.

The team's technique combines nanotechnology with surface plasmonics (which deals with the interactions of electrons and photons or light). The researchers etched thousands of plasmonic interferometers--each a slit flanked by two grooves--onto a biochip the size of a fingernail. Changes in light intensity transmitted through each slit give information about the concentration of glucose molecules. In the tests, water was used, but the technique works with saliva. The technology could be used to detect other substances as well, from anthrax to biological compounds.

The researchers hope to develop a full prototype within the next few years.

A novel, painless, minimally-invasive way to test might call it a "bloodless coup."

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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