Type 2 Diabetes is a condition which causes high blood glucose levels as a result of the body's inability to properly utilise the insulin that it produces, and patients with the condition are at a higher risk of stroke, heart disease and blindness amongst other complications. Roughly 6% of the UK population are known to have Type 2 Diabetes, whilst around another 3% are estimated to be unaware that they have the condition. The statistics are broadly similar worldwide, and the rate of occurrence is said to be increasing.

Diet and lifestyle are factors known to contribute to development of Type 2 for many patients, and by making changes early, its possible to reduce the risk or even avoid the condition altogether. Prediabetes is a precursor to Type 2, where blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for Type 2 to be diagnosed. Once a patient knows they have Prediabetes, the likelihood of them making sufficient changes to lower their risk of developing Type 2 increases significantly, driven by that awareness.

The problem, however, is that testing is not conducted as standard on the general population. Generally, patients are only screened if risk factors such as a high BMI or a family history exist, or if symptoms of Type 2 are already being felt, by which time it could already be too late.

Researchers at the University of Washington have created "GlucoScreen", a simple, low-cost device which attaches to a smartphone and enables the user to test their blood glucose levels. What's clever about this system is that it is powered by a solar sensor activated by the phone's camera flash. It then "transmits" the data gathered to an app on the phone, using a series of taps on the phone's own touchscreen.

By keeping the system so simple, it remains affordable for those who would not qualify for funding of blood glucose testing equipment because they are not known to have a condition that requires testing. As a result of speculative testing using a device like this, a diagnosis of Prediabetes can be made early-on, and appropriate steps taken to reduce the risk of it developing into Type 2. Programs like this one led by the CDC in the United States have been proven to reduce the risk by as much as 58% (and 71% for those aged over 60), so the benefit of early testing is clear.

According to this slightly more detailed article on the University of Washington School of Medicine website, GlucoScreen remains very much a prototype, and further development will be needed before it can become a marketable product. However, this is a new invention, which its inventors (or perhaps the University) are in theory capable of securing patent protection for, and they are likely to have sought protection long before releasing details, to ensure that their rights are secure. A quick search of trade mark registers revealed no relevant applications to register "GlucoScreen", but a key difference between patents and trade marks is that in many countries, including the UK and US, you can acquire rights in a trade mark through use of it even if you have not sought to register it, whereas your ability to secure patent protection may be lost if details of the invention are made public too early.

There is also a requirement to use a registered trade mark within a certain time period after registration (five years in the UK, and three years in the US, for example), and if there is potential for the development process to take another few years before a product can actually be released, then the timing of any application would be crucial.

The system does not require a battery, and instead involves attaching a solar sensor to the smartphone camera flash. When the phone is used to obtain the blood glucose data from the test strip, the app will engage the smartphone flash, providing power to the test strip so that it can relay the data. Cleverly, the strips communicates with the phone haptically, using a series of touches on the smartphone touchscreen to relay the data. The data analysis itself takes place on the phone.


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