Detecting Body Substances Without Drawing Blood Focus of UB Assistant Professor's Research

Release Date: July 24, 1996 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N. Y. -- A $179,000 three-year grant from the Whitaker Foundation is funding a University at Buffalo study of state-of-the-art techniques used to detect various substances in the body without having to draw blood samples.

"We are developing non-invasive techniques for detecting glucose and other compounds in the blood by analyzing two specific substances -- tears and subcutaneous fluid, a substance that naturally comes through the skin," said Luis A. Colon, Ph.D., principal investigator and UB assistant professor of chemistry.

"If we can establish the natural correlation between the amount of glucose in the blood and the amount in these two fluids, I envision a sensor that can be attached to the skin to monitor the blood-sugar level of diabetics without ever puncturing the skin for a blood sample," said Colon, who believes that blood-sugar levels also may easily be obtained by analyzing tear drops.

This type of sensor, he added, could eventually be available for home use. "Some people are scared of having their blood drawn and will adhere much better to treatments and testing if blood samples and needles are not involved," said Colon. "Significant advances in this type of research will take clinical analysis to new dimensions."

For the UB study, collection of subcutaneous fluid from the skin is accomplished with a technique called iontophoretic sampling, which uses a mild electric current applied to the skin to enhance migration of the fluid to the skin's surface for testing. Tear samples are collected in a capillary tube.

"One of the most important aspects of the research is that, once the sample is obtained, we can analyze extremely small quantities of the substance with a technique called capillary electrophoresis," said Colon, an expert in this technique and other miniaturized separation techniques.

Colon believes this research also will be extremely beneficial to pharmacists and researchers testing the effects of certain drugs on the body without taking blood samples, as well as allow for more convenient testing of illegal drugs by eliminating urine tests.

At this stage in the research, Colon already has a prototype on how to test the non-invasive and miniaturized separation techniques. A positive correlation has been established between the concentration of glucose in the blood and the concentration in tears. Experiments are under way with the subcutaneous fluid that comes through the skin.

The study is providing important learning opportunities and hands-on training for UB students. Williamsville resident Michael Gostkowki, who received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from UB in May, has served as Colon's research assistant for two years.

"I'm gaining valuable experience helping with this research because I have the opportunity to utilize science in a practical setting. I'm learning things that a textbook could not teach me," said Gostkowski, who begins a doctoral degree program in chemistry at the University of Texas in the fall.

The Whitaker Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation that primarily supports research and education in biomedical engineering.

Colon is a resident of Amherst.