A small, insignificant looking square pad, the size of a finger nail, could change the way diabetics live. Almost invisible, on the surface of the pads are scores of needles.
Each micro-needle, which measures one millimeter long, contains its own sophisticated sensor, or nano wire; completely invisible to the naked eye. Together, the needles are in a constant cycle of collecting and analyzing the blood of the patient it's attached to.
You won't be able to feel it either according to its inventors, who say it's designed to stay permanently and painlessly in contact with a patient's arm.
The technology, being developed at Swansea University, is in its infancy stage. The team is now in the middle of developing a transmitter which will be able to send an SMS message to a hospital, or to relatives as soon as a patient is at risk of a hypoglycemic attack.
The idea is to ensure that there is no delay in providing emergency treatment, even if the diabetic is alone and unconscious. Dr Vincent Teng is Swansea University's nano-technology expert.
"The length of a needle is about 1mm and they have a diameter of about 15 microns. That offers a painless experience to a patient when using it. These needles will be attached to the arm of the patient and blood sample will be drawn using these micro-needles. The sensors, which are developed using nano-wire technology, will be integrated into the micro-needles, and that offers painless detection of blood glucose, and continuous monitoring of blood glucose."
An undetected hypoglycemic attack can prove fatal for people with type 1 diabetes. Sufferers need to take insulin injections, meaning they must test their blood glucose levels up to 10 times every day. Such a device would mean they wouldn't need to carry blood sugar testing equipment around with them at all times.
The micro-needles are just part of the work from the University's Health Informatics Research laboratories, directed by Professor David Ford. He says the device being developed here is aimed at ensuring that diabetics are not at risk of fainting, or going into shock, when they're asleep, or alone.
Ford says the system of continual monitoring is an exciting development.
"If a patient was to wear this 24 hours a day it would be an enormous benefit in terms of understanding the way that their blood glucose responds to what they eat and what they do during the day, and potentially could have a role in perhaps automating the introduction of insulin into the bloodstream, which is the mechanism that is used naturally to moderate blood glucose levels."
This technology for diabetics is still a few years away from being tested. But Teng says that the team hopes the same system can be widened to provide pioneering care applications for people who suffer from heart disease and strokes.
"With the use of the right bio markers on the nano wires we'll be able to use this technology to detect other chronic diseases. Say, for example, heart disease, asthma, and also stroke, which is very common. In fact the number of people who suffer from this chronic disease has increased rapidly in recent times."
The WHO says non-communicable diseases, or NCDs, are the leading cause of death in the world. That's 63 per cent of all deaths each year.
For CRI, I am Li Dong.