University researchers are experimenting with using tears, instead of blood, to calculate glucose levels for diabetics.

Chemistry Prof. Mark Meyerhoff was among several University scientists working to construct a sensor to measure glucose levels in tears. The device, which was tested on 12 rabbits, is a narrow capillary tube of glass constructed to collect tears “without perturbing the eye itself,” Meyerhoff said. This is crucial because irritating the eye would lead to inaccurate glucose measurements, he said.

Meyerhoff explained that researchers have been experimenting with the use of tears as a substitute for blood in diabetes testing since the 1950s, but a grant from the EyeLab Group, LLC made his team’s recent work possible.

In the study, researchers found that the ratio between tear and blood glucose levels varied in each rabbit. Diabetics seeking to use the technology would have to carefully determine the correlation between their tear and blood glucose levels to ensure accurate measurements, Meyerhoff said.

He added that it would take approximately 10 to 15 minutes to collect the necessary amount of tears for the instrument to work as it is currently designed.

“We recognize that a lot more needs to be done to scale it down to a much smaller size,” Meyerhoff said.

Meyerhoff and his colleagues have been working on the project for approximately one year, but it could also take up to five years before the technology is available for consumer use, Meyerhoff said.

Even if the technology becomes available for human use, Meyerhoff emphasized that the instrument would not replace blood glucose measurements.

“It’s going to be a monitor,” Meyerhoff said. “It will tell you whether you’re high or low, (and when to) check your blood glucose. (Do not) rely on it to give yourself insulin.”

Meyerhoff said he never imagined himself as a diabetes researcher.

“I always swore I would never work on glucose because too many people are doing it …” he said. “It’s such a hot subject, given the status (of) how many people have diabetes.”

In the United States, 25.8 million people have diabetes, according to National Institutes of Health.

In addition to Meyerhoff, other University researchers will be focused on diabetes research with the help of a multimillion dollar grant received last week. The Center for Geospatial Medicine at the University’s School of Natural Resources and Environment received a $6.2 million joint grant with Duke University from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. The grant is part of the foundation’s national diabetes program, Together on Diabetes, and the project will be based in Durham County, N.C.

Unlike Meyerhoff’s study, the collaboration with Duke University will focus on Type II diabetes. The goal of the research is to examine the relationship between where diabetes patients live and the health care available.

With the grant, the researchers will use geospatial mapping — a technology which takes health care and disease information and shapes it to a physical map of a community—according to the press release.

Marie Lynn Miranda, director of the Center for Geospatial Medicine, wrote in a University press release that she is grateful for the opportunity to investigate the relationship between disease, health care and location. Miranda will become the dean of SNRE on Jan. 1.

Mary Riegle, director of special events and individual giving at the American Diabetes Association office in Detroit, wrote in an e-mail interview that she strongly believes research makes a huge difference in the lives of diabetics.

“We know so much more about diabetes than we did 20 years ago because of research,” Riegle wrote.

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