Originally created 11/30/03

Diabetes work goes microscopic



ATHENS, Ga. - Three University of Georgia researchers hope to develop the technology that would make it possible for diabetes sufferers to live without needle pricks and glucose meters.

Using nanotechnology - manipulating particles on an atomic scale to build microscopic devices - professors Guigen Zhang, William Kisaa-lita and Yiping Zhao are at work on a project that would allow them to create extremely small sensors that could be embedded unobtrusively in the body to measure blood-sugar levels.

The process would be the first of its kind done in the area, said Dr. Zhang, a bio-engineer in UGA's department of biological and agricultural engineering.

Dr. Zhang said the researchers chose the project because of the harmful impact of diabetes, which affects about 17 million people in the United States, according to the American Diabetes Association.

"It is a big problem in the United States and the world, particularly among children," said Dr. Zhang, who heads the project. "This is one of the areas we chose to work toward first."

Nanotechnology is being studied by researchers throughout the country for a wide variety of uses. However, no one has successfully developed a nanoscale sensor for detecting blood glucose levels, Dr. Zhang said.

To create such a sensor, which could be embedded anywhere in the body, the scientist must create the small structures that would make it possible.

Dr. Zhao is using a technology known as glancing angle deposition to vaporize materials such as silicon or metal that could then be manipulated into the nanostructures. Once successfully developed, these structures could be used to create the biosensors.

"This is key for the project," said Dr. Zhao, a UGA physicist.

Once perfected, a potential sensor would have a wide variety of biological uses, he said.

"That's the purpose of working with nanotechnology," he said. "With nanotechnology, we can deliver a (biosensor) anywhere we wish."

According to Dr. Zhang, the wide range of applications is what makes the research so valuable. If his team is successful, it would have a widespread impact on the entire nanotechnology field.

The researchers understand how difficult the task is ahead of them, but that doesn't dampen their optimism, said Dr. Kisaalita, also a UGA bioengineer. He said that even if they are not successful, it's still possible for the research to be viewed as a success.

"If we implement this and it doesn't pan out, usually knowing why it doesn't pan out yields a lot," Dr. Kisaalita said. "A lot of discoveries happen that way."

Dr. Zhang said the project is likely to take about three to four years, though he hopes to have it successfully completed sooner.