Mahla Poudineh

Mahla Poudineh 
Professor, Faculty of Engineering
> Director, IDEATION Lab

Diabetes affects over five million Canadians and many more people around the world, necessitating constant monitoring of glucose and ketone levels — a process that has long been associated with pain and inconvenience. Imagine a future where monitoring diabetes and ketone levels is quick and comfortable.

Dr. Mahla Poudineh, a professor and director of the IDEATION Lab in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is developing a small, painless, wearable patch for people with type 1 diabetes which sends informative readings to their smartphones.

One of the challenges in diabetes management is the constant need for monitoring of glucose and ketone levels. Continuous monitoring devices for glucose have been available for several years, however, people with type 1 diabetes must still take blood samples by painful finger pricks or use urine testing strips to determine their ketone levels, which current device don’t do.

Poudineh's one centimetre square-shaped patch aims to improve this process by providing a wearable solution that enables real-time monitoring without the discomfort associated with current monitoring methods.

When applied, the patch employs flexible microneedles made from a skin friendly polymer. These microneedles are designed to penetrate the skin's surface and access the interstitial fluid, where glucose and ketones are present. The microneedles, which are painless and minimally invasive, can offer a comprehensive view of a patient's metabolic health.

Wearers of the disposable device will apply the patch for one or two weeks at a time. It will communicate with a smartphone via Bluetooth, allowing users and their health-care providers to monitor glucose and ketone levels in real-time. The patch will alert patient and clinician to critical glucose and ketone level changes.

In addition to everyday monitoring, this could help prevent diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening complication that occurs when the body starts breaking down fat at a rate that is much too fast due to a lack of insulin. The liver processes the fat into a fuel called ketones, which in excess can cause the blood to become acidic, triggering a range of issues, including diabetic coma, stroke, heart attack, blindness or death.

Poudineh's project is funded by JDRF, a leading global type 1 diabetes research and advocacy organization. Johnson & Johnson Scholars Award Program has also recognized Poudineh’s work on the patch as part of their women in science, technology, engineering, math, manufacturing and design (WiSTEM2D) initiative.

In consultation with Waterloo’s Commercialization Office (WatCo), Poudineh is submitting a patent application for the technology. She is also working on a research paper that outlines the development and validation of the patch.

While the patch itself is under development, Dr. Peter Levine, also an electrical and computer engineering professor at Waterloo, is building a miniature electronic platform to wirelessly send readings from the needles to users' smartphones.

Poudineh is considering the cost-effectiveness of the painless diabetes patch, being mindful of how it would compare to current methods. The use of cost-efficient materials and streamlined fabrication processes could contribute to a much more affordable solution for patients.

While the commercialization of the device is still in the planning stages, partnerships with established companies are being explored to facilitate its introduction into the market. Poudineh’s dedication to innovation and patient-centered care is evident in her pursuit of the patch’s development that promises to transform the lives of individuals with diabetes.

With ongoing interdisciplinary collaborations, funding and validation studies, this visionary technology could soon make its way into the hands of those who need it most — offering a more freeing but safe future for diabetes management.