Earwax could help in type 2 diagnosis

Researchers believe a test which measures the glucose levels in earwax could deliver an earlier diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

The team led by University College London, said their proposed method is almost  ‘60% more reliable’ at measuring glucose levels averaged over a month, than the current standard test.

In addition, they believe the test — which can be conducted at home — could also be applied to measure COVID-19 antibodies.

Diagnosing diabetes

‘It is estimated globally that one in two adults with type 2 diabetes are undiagnosed,’ said Andres Herane-Vives of the University College London.

This has likely worsened during COVID-19 as people may not have undergone screening.

‘Many people with type 2 diabetes already have complications when they are diagnosed, so earlier diagnosis is critical.’

A new way to measure blood glucose

‘The current standard to test chronic glucose levels requires a blood sample, and is not perfectly reliable as it uses blood proteins as a proxy for the actual glucose levels, he explained.

‘We have been working to develop a cheaper, more precise way to measure someone’s long-term glucose levels at any point in time.’

The new testing device looks like a cotton swab – but with a brake that prevents it from going too far into the ear.

The tip is treated with a solution which tests have indicated to be effective at collecting earwax samples for analysis.

In their study, the researchers recruited 37 participants who did not have diabetes to put the probe through its paces.

Previous research by the team demonstrated that the device can also measure the stress hormone cortisol. This may one day be used to help monitor depression and stress-related conditions.

Cortisol has traditionally proven difficult to measure accurately, as its levels can fluctuate. Samples of hair are typically taken — but not everyone has enough hair for a reliable sample.

Early diagnosis helps prevent complications

‘Globally, type 2 diabetes is a leading cause of vision loss, heart attack, stroke and kidney damage,’ said Rachel Batterham of the University College London.

‘To prevent complications we need to diagnose people as early as possible. To date this has been hampered by the lack of an easy-to-use screening test.’

‘This new device may allow mass screening and earlier identification of type 2 diabetes.’

Initial study leading to larger trials

With their initial study complete, the research team are planning larger trials — including involving people with diabetes.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Diagnostics.

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