Washington: In a significant discovery, researchers have invented a cheap and hand-held device to diagnose type-1 diabetes at home.
People who are at risk of developing type-1 diabetes can also benefit from the nanotech microchip-based device because it will allow doctors to quickly track if they can have the disease later in life.
"With the new test, not only do we anticipate being able to diagnose diabetes more efficiently and more broadly, we will also understand diabetes better," said Brian Feldman, an assistant professor at Stanford University's school of medicine.
The handheld microchips distinguish between the two main forms of diabetes mellitus - type-1 and type-2 - which are both characterised by high blood-sugar levels but have different causes and treatments.
The microchip relies on a fluorescence-based method for detecting the antibodies.
The team's innovation is that the glass plates forming the base of each microchip are coated with an array of nanoparticle-sized islands of gold, which intensify the fluorescent signal, enabling reliable antibody detection.
The test was validated with blood samples from people newly diagnosed with diabetes and from people without diabetes.
Both groups had the old test and the microchip-based test performed on their blood.
Type-1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease caused by an inappropriate immune-system attack on healthy tissue.
The disease begins when a person's own antibodies attack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
The auto-antibodies are present in people with type-1 but not those with type-2, which is how tests distinguish between them.
"Even if you do not have diabetes yet, if you have one auto-antibody linked to diabetes in your blood, you are at significant risk; with multiple auto-antibodies, it is more than 90 percent risk," Feldman said in a paper published in the journal Nature Medicine.
The new microchip uses no radioactivity, produces results in minutes and requires minimal training to use.
Each chip, expected to cost about $20 (Rs.1,100) to produce, can be used for upward of 15 tests.
The microchip also uses a much smaller volume of blood than the older test, researchers said.