The flexible patch has sensors and a drug delivery system.

Diabetes Research Strikes Gold With a Graphene Patch

Steve Russell

Diabetes mellitus is a terrible disease that can cause disability and death if not carefully managed. So many Indians are managing it that most of us know somebody in that situation. A scientific paper published in Nature Nanotechnology by Hyunjae Lee and colleagues at Seoul University and the University of Texas at Austin points the way to future management that is less trouble and less expensive.

Comic book fans will remember that Superman could create diamonds by squeezing a lump of coal in his hand, an entertainment meme that illustrates nicely how the properties of carbon depend on how it’s arranged.

Carbon in a soft and dark version is graphite, the writing material in a pencil.  Diamond is a hard and transparent version of the same element. Natural diamonds are created by the high temperature and high pressure of the earth’s mantle when Superman is not available to squeeze coal.

Only Superman can squeeze coal into diamonds.

Now there is graphene, a sheet of carbon atoms that is only one atom thick. Graphene sounds simple but the growing list of things graphene can do is anything but simple.

Graphene is 200 times stronger than steel would be if steel came that thin. It conducts both heat and electricity. Graphene was first observed under electron microscopes in 1962 and first isolated in 2004 in a series of experiments that won the Nobel Prize for Physics.

Joining a long list of uses for graphene, Dr. Lee proposes a transparent and stretchable band of graphene imprinted with tiny amounts of gold to direct electrical current.

The patch takes fifteen minutes to start continuously measuring blood sugar levels through sweat. When needed, medication is released though microscopic needles too tiny to cause pain.

While graphene is still expensive to isolate, the cost is coming down. Gold is gold, but the tiny amounts required can be recycled. Cost is not the issue when compared to the treatment cycle of doctor visits and pharmacy visits and home testing kits that are the diabetes drill for so many people now. All that will be eliminated for a patch worn on your arm that will inform you when it needs changing.

The hitch in getting the graphene-gold patch to market is not cost but rather the limited amounts of drug that can be infused with microneedles. It works as it is for monitoring but the objective is both monitoring and treatment.

The research to inject more medication or more powerful medication will be funded for the same reason the South Korean government funded this research.

Populations in South Korea and the U.S. are both obese and aging and the same is true in most of the developed world. Every indicator predicts more diabetics using the health care systems and more diabetes-related costs. You know, like Indian Health Service? 

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