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Diagnosing diabetes without drawing blood

December 14, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Young or old, whatever your ethnic background, diabetes can hit anyone at any time. Now there's a new tool helping identify the disease in record time.

If the obesity trend continues, experts predict 1 in 3 American kids born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes. But that doesn't mean they'll know they have the disease. Right now, 7 million diabetics are undiagnosed in the United States.

Now a new needle-free, lightning-fast test is helping Autumn Russ understand what was happening to her.

"I started getting dizzy and I started getting really tired easily," said Autumn.

Autumn Russ recently got the news that she has diabetes. Now she's part of a study testing how a machine can assess her risk for serious diabetes complications.

"Prior to this machine, the only way you could do this was actually doing a skin biopsy," said pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Stuart Chalew.

Chalew says the screening device uses light instead of an invasive skin biopsy and lab testing to measure abnormal proteins in the skin associated with diabetes complications.

A patient puts his or her arm on it and in moments the results are in.

Monitoring blood glucose levels is currently one of the best ways to determine risk for complication. But this machine could prove to be quicker and more effective.

"Two people with the same blood glucose may have very different levels of glycated proteins," said Chalew.

High levels can mean higher risk. Scientists are working on new therapies to lower those chances.

For kids like Autumn, and even adults, the system could also be valuable. It's being tested as a way to quickly screen large numbers of people for diabetes without the need for drawing blood.

The device is currently restricted to investigational use in the U.S. But it could get FDA approval by 2013.

In related news, USC neuroscientists announced they've found the missing link in how the brain regulates blood sugar. Researchers identified the exact enzymes that lead to the release of glucose-controlling hormones.

Understanding how the body naturally corrects for high or low blood sugar could change the way diabetes is treated.