University of Bath researchers said it could even be linked to a smartphone app which warns diabetics when to take action. The new device promises to replace the current and unpopular method to test blood sugars used by millions of diabetics.
Almost 3.7 million Britons and have been diagnosed and it is expected to increase to five million by 2025.
Professor Richard Guy, from the university’s Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, said: “A non-invasive – that is, needleless – method to monitor blood sugar has proven a difficult goal to attain.
“The closest that has been achieved has required either at least a single-point calibration with a classic ‘finger-stick’, or the implantation of a pre-calibrated sensor via a single needle insertion.
“The monitor developed at Bath promises a truly calibration-free approach, an essential contribution in the fight to combat the ever-increasing global incidence of diabetes.”
The patch taps into glucose in the skin through an array of miniature sensors which use a small electric current.
Glucose collects in tiny reservoirs where it is measured, with the ability to take readings every ten to 15 minutes over several hours.
Researchers now hope it can become a low-cost wearable sensor which sends regular measurements to a wearer’s phone or smartwatch.
Alerts could also be set up to warn a wearer when to take action, they said.
Dr Adelina Ilie, from the Department of Physics, said: “The specific architecture of our array permits calibration-free operation and it has the further benefit of allowing realisation with a variety of materials in combination.
“We utilised graphene as one of the components as it brings important advantages. Specifically, it is strong, conductive, flexible, and potentially low-cost and environmentally friendly.
“In addition, our design can be implemented using high-throughput fabrication techniques like screen printing, which we hope will ultimately support a disposable, widely affordable device.”
An important advantage over other test devices is that each miniature sensor of the array can operate on a small area over an individual hair follicle, the scientists said.
They explained this significantly reduces variability in glucose extraction and increases the accuracy of the measurements.
The team initially tested the patch on pig skin, which showed it could accurately track glucose levels across the range seen in diabetic human patients.
Further tests on healthy human volunteers again showed it could track blood sugar variations throughout the day.
They now hope to improve the design to allow for full functionality across a 24-hour wear period and carry out clinical trials.
In Britain just under six per cent of adults have diabetes and the NHS spends around 10 per cent of its budget on monitoring and treating the disease.
But up to 50 per cent of adults with diabetes are undiagnosed. The study was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.