Big ambitions for a tiny implant
A technology developed by the Norwegian company Lifecare AS can help millions of diabetics worldwide, and contribute to industrial development in Norway in the process.
By employing completely new, groundbreaking micro- and nanotechnology, the small start-up company is seeking to revolutionise diabetes treatment - while making the lives of diabetes patients simpler and safer.
Diabetics check their blood sugar levels several times each day by pricking a finger and squeezing a drop of blood onto a glucose meter. Their monitoring kit has to accompany them wherever they go.
In 2006, Lifecare sought funding under the Research Council's Programme for User-driven Research-based Innovation (BIA) to develop a device that could be implanted in the body to continuously monitor blood sugar levels. The finalised version of the device will be unimaginably tiny, but will nevertheless contain a sensor, membrane, radio transmitter and power supply unit. The device will fit on the tip of a syringe for surgery-free implantation.
Completely new knowledge
"We didn't base this project on existing knowledge - we devised something completely new based on osmotic pressure," states researcher and project manager Erik Johannessen, enthusiastically. He expects the project to deliver significant findings in the spring of 2008.
"The most difficult part is constructing the membrane," he explains. "The membrane is the barrier between the sensor and the body. It has to be porous, and making pores at the molecular level is very challenging. But we believe we will succeed in the course of the spring. Another major challenge is how to get the human body to accept the sensor and not reject it or encapsulate it."
Lifecare is collaborating with eminent international research groups at the Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology, Inc. (CSEM) and the University of Glasgow, which are providing assistance in creating the membrane. Finland's leading technological research institute, VTT Electronics, as well as 3M of the USA and MicroTEC of Germany are also providing expertise.
The goal is to market a prototype in 2010.
Diabetes is a growing problem in many parts of the world, and the costs to society of treating this disease are rising. Diabetes is the seventh most common cause of death in the USA. According to statistics from the International Journal of Fertility and Menopausal Studies, diabetes causes more deaths among women than breast cancer, so improved treatment methods are of potential economic importance.
From a business standpoint, the potential is just as great. "Our product will compete directly with existing glucose meters on the market. A global market share of 2.5 per cent would yield an annual turnover of over NOK 1.5 billion," Dr Johannessen figures.
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