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The Noninvasive Dream

By David Mendosa

Last Update: January 5, 2005

It has long been our dream to have some sort of beam that would test blood glucose without breaking the skin to take a drop of blood.

Somebody will develop a successful dream beam

Many have tried and failed to make a noninvasive blood glucose meter, few more spectacularly than Futrex Medical Instrumentation's aptly-named “Dream Beam.” The name was a lot better than the product. The Securities and Exchange Commission stopped Futrex with a successful fraud action.

Biocontrol Technology (now known as BICO) is perhaps an even more spectacular failure. After the company raised more than $184 millions dollars by selling 3.4 billion shares of stock to unsuspecting investors, its shares last sold for $0.0019 each, and a bankruptcy court has just approved its Chapter 11 reorganization.

I would argue that no one has yet been successful. The GlucoWatch Biographer, acclaimed by its manufacturer, Cygnus, as the first noninvasive meter, isn’t. The company itself admits that it causes most people to have mild to moderate skin irritation. Some people get blisters and others get redness or itching.

The GlucoWatch works through a process called reverse iontophoresis. This process allows the meter to collect glucose samples through the skin by applying an extremely low electric current.

That’s one of many technical approaches. The major current approaches include using the entire spectrum of the near infrared and multivariate analysis to extract glucose information from tissue. These include active investigators like InLight Solutions (formerly Rio Grande Medical Technologies), LifeTrac Systems, NIR Diagnostics (formerly CME Telemetrix), Oculir, and Sensys Medical (formerly Instrumentation Metrics), plus the ill-fated Futrex.

Another major current approach measures glucose in the eye, including contact lenses. Fovioptics is a new and exciting company using this approach. Another is Visual Pathways.

In the past two years Infratec has generated some of the greatest excitement. This company is developing a device that measures blood glucose levels from the eardrum using the body's natural heat emission.

Several active investigators are using a light scattering/Raman spectroscopy/photoacoustic approach. These include GlucoLight, Glucon Medical, LighTouch Medical, and OrSense.

Other approaches include those of Fluent Biomedical, using spectroscopy and signal analysis techniques, MedOptix, using optical technology based on mid-infrared light reflection from the skin surface, and Pendragon Medical, using radio frequency impedance. Samsung Fine Chemicals has said that it uses an electromagnetic radiant ray. Sontra Medical uses a “glucose flux biosensor.” Finally, just this year Hitachi announced that it is working on a device that uses special sensors to detect physiological parameters, such as thermal energy, oxygen supply, and blood flow.

Which will be the first successful noninvasive meter? No one knows, but Dr. David Klonoff, editor of Diabetes Technology and Therapeutics and Medical Director of Mills-Peninsula Diabetes Research Institute in San Mateo, California, mentions what he sees as the most promising companies in this order: Sensys Medical, NIR Diagnostics, InLight Solutions, Glucon, OrSense, Pendragon, Infratec, and MedOptix.

Every industry insider has different favorites. One industry source indicates that his “own biased list of the top five would be Fovioptics, GlucoLight, Glucon, Infratec and OrSense, listed in alphabetical order, not in order of likely success.”

With so many people working on noninvasive meters, it’s likely that somebody will finally develop the first successful dream beam. But test strips and fingersticks are certain to figure in our immediate future.

Sidebar: Noninvasive Patents
Since the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued the first noninvasive glucose patent to Wayne March in 1976, hundreds of others thought they had the secret formula.

A search of the USPTO website at for “glucose and noninvasive or non-invasive” shows that between 1976 and 2003 the office issued 2,161 patents with these terms. The trend in the number of patents issued since 1976 shows amazing exponential growth.

Until 1987 the USPTO issued no more than eight per year. Between 1988 and 1996 the numbers were in the double-digit range. And between 1997 and 2003 they increased from 125 to 297 per year. 

This article originally appeared in Diabetes Health, January 2005, page 62.

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