“Many people have tried to create a way for diabetics to measure their glucose levels without pricking a finger to draw blood. Currently, most patients with type 1 diabetes are forced to measure their blood sugar levels by pricking themselves and drawing blood, some as often as eight times per day. Instead of blood, Ascilion analyses interstitial fluid, the fluid that is naturally present in the skin. Interstitial fluid is a proven reliable carrier of glucose information”, says Markus Renlund.
He is a researcher at the small Ascilion AB company in Kista. Their inventions include hollow microneedles optimised for extracting interstitial fluid. These needles are manufactured out of monocrystalline silicon and the fluid is drawn through the needles by capillary force. The company has also developed a new and radically different sensor, which is not based on measuring enzymes or proteins, but works with radio-frequency spectroscopy instead.
With financing from Swelife, Ascilion has conducted a study together with Uppsala University Hospital on this sensor. The aim has been to find out how well the measuring method compares to state-of-the-art methods used in clinical chemistry laboratories, which are much more precise than the measurements taken in the home environment.
“We had a very good correlation in the study. The deviations we found were within the permitted margin.”
The study was conducted together with the burns centre at Uppsala University Hospital and used fluid from the burn blisters of patient volunteers, with permission after ethical review.
“The collaboration with both the burns unit and Innovation Akademiska was fantastic. As a little start-up with no clinical expertise, we would never have been able to achieve this without them. They helped us to set up all the necessary procedures, including how to anonymise the samples”, says Markus Renlund.
He also emphasises Swelife’s important role in the context:
“It is very good that the conditions stipulate that projects are to be collaborative, in this case between a very small company and a large hospital. If Swelife hadn’t ´forced’ a collaboration, nothing would have happened.”
Development towards a large market
The market for pain- and blood-free analysis of biomarkers is vast. Besides potentially simplifying the lives of 400 million diabetics all over the world, the technology enables dramatic changes within a number of different diagnostic areas, with faster, simpler, cheaper and more precise tests.
Now Ascilion is mainly working on further developing its needles.
“With the study on the sensor, we have made some progress on this path. We have also received a lot of attention and signed a cooperation agreement with a large medtech company. There is competition, in the form of both continuous and quasi-continuous glucose measurement devices, but our method is cheaper in volume. The prototype is insanely expensive to produce, but once in production the manufacturing cost is very low.”
Updated: 14 February 2018
Text: Jörgen Olsson