Stethoscope and a syringe on a diabetes test

There are two kinds of diabetes. Type 2 is the one that most people think of; it typically develops in patients as a result of obesity and diet-related factors. The result is a resistance to insulin which leads to problems controlling blood sugar levels.

The other kind is Type 1, which is an autoimmune disease in which the patient’s body produces antibodies that attack the pancreas. The result is that the body stops making insulin which regulates blood sugar levels. It used to be that the typical profile of Type 1 and Type 2 patients were very different. Type 2 was typically found in older patients, while the onset of Type 1 tended to occur in children. The growing problem with obesity at all ages and a general increase of Type 1 throughout the population has resulted in an overlap among the two groups, which makes diagnosis more difficult.

The traditional diagnosis for Type 1 relies radioactive tracers, requires highly-trained technicians in a well-equipped lab, and costs hundreds of dollars per test. And it takes days to get the results. Researchers at Stanford University may have found a better way. According to new results published in Nature Medicine, they have developed a “lab on a chip” that should cost about $20 to produce, and can be reused a dozen times or more. What’s more, it returns the results in a matter of minutes, requires no radioactive materials or sophisticated lab equipment, and needs no more than a drop of blood from a finger prick.

The device consist of a microchip mounted between glass plates. The glass is coated with gold nanoparticles which intensify the fluorescent reaction that indicates the presence of the Type 1 antibodies. The result is a low-cost device that can be used in the field. This new test could make it possible not just to identify Type 1 patients faster, the cost is low enough that it could  be used for wide-spread screening of family members of Type 1 diabetics to see if they also have the antibodies, which would put them at greater risk of developing the condition themselves.