The results of the blood sugar tests guide treatment, with diabetes patients often adjusting medication or insulin levels based on the test reading to maintain acceptable glucose levels.
The Brown researchers realized that saliva also contains glucose, though in much lower quantities.
The new device uses light and a metal surface that interferes with the way light hits a sample, Palmore said. The light "reads" how a special enzyme reacts to the presence of sugar in saliva to measure the concentration of sugar in a sample.
The researchers tested the sensor on artificial saliva to see how well it works without the potential complications found in real saliva. For example, food or drinks could alter the results. The sensor was able to detect sugar levels with high accuracy, they said.
Palmore said the next step is to make the device portable, hopefully small enough to fit in your hand. They also need to test it on real saliva, and find inexpensive light sources. Palmore said the researchers are also working on ways to measure insulin levels in the body.
Some sort of rinse for use before testing a saliva sample is also needed. A mouthwash could remove food or other contaminants that might affect the glucose reading, according to Palmore.
"Just because there is an established way of measuring blood sugar, doesn't mean it's the only way," said Palmore. "This is a priority area of research for many people. There's some hope that you may not have to prick yourself every couple of hours."
Zonszein added that the idea of searching for alternatives is a good one. "But to apply that from the lab to human clinical trials is still very far away," he said.
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