Additive Manufacturing Could Help Manage Diabetes

“Artifical Pancreas” Created By Engineers At OSU

Diabetes management requires insulin therapy, managing your diet, monitoring your glucose levels and making sure you engage in regular physical activity.  Researchers are looking for treatments and potential cures to type I and type II diabetes in a number of ways.  From isolating chemicals in ayahuasca to treat type I diabetes, to using stem cells to reverse type II, the search for new treatments continues.  Forecasts for the global treatment of type I diabetes are expected to more than double from $6.6 billion in 2013, to $13.6 billion by 2023, according to research and consulting firm GlobalData.

In order to create these new types of sensors, gold films are patterned onto a substrate using microcontract printing and etching.

In order to create these new types of sensors, gold films are patterned onto a substrate using microcontract printing and etching.

Engineers at Oregon State University have used “additive manufacturing” in the form of an electrohydrodynamic jet to make an improved type of glucose sensor for patients with Type 1 diabetes.  The hope is that this will be part of a system that should cost less, work better and be more comfortable for the patient. 

Understanding Electrohydrodynamic jet printing

Electrohydrodynamic jet printing works similarly to a run-of-the mill inkjet printer, except it creates finer drop sizes and works with specialized materials.  For example, at Oregon State, engineers are using biological materials such as enzymes, instead of ink. This technology would be used to make an “artificial pancreas” using a single point of entry, a catheter, improving on existing systems which require four entry points.  As of now, the four-point entry system is a type of belt worn around the waist.


“This technology and other work that could evolve from it should improve a patient’s health, comfort and diabetes management,” says Greg Herman, an OSU associate professor of chemical engineering. By providing constant monitoring of blood glucose concentrations, the matched portable infusion pumps can deliver insulin and glucagon, maintaining safe levels of glucose in the blood.


The team, which was supported by  t he National Institutes of Health reported their findings in the ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology.


Without carefully controlling glucose levels, Type 1 diabetes can lead to serious health complications including retinopathy, blindness, neuropathy, kidney and cardiac disease. 

Researchers say that this new system may help patients get diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes as well. It also may prove to have the capacity to make other biological measurements beyond blood sugar. Unfortunately, diabetes is on the rise globally and becoming a more common health issue.


The International Diabetes Federation published a study in 2014 which estimated that 387 million people around the world had some type of diabetes.  Not only that, but in the next two decades, that number will increase to 592 million.  The global economic cost of treating diabetes last year was estimated at $612 billion.  The agency also reported that more than three out of four people with diabetes live in low or middle-income countries, which reduces the options for effective treatments. 

Advantages to using this new approach 

This new approach is less intrusive, uses fewer processing steps, avoids waste, costs less and is more precise.  “These are disposable devices that only last about a week and then need to be replaced,” Herman adds. “Some other approaches used to make them might waste up to 90 percent of the materials being used, and that’s a problem in a throw-away sensor. It’s also important to keep costs as low as possible, and printing systems are inherently low-cost.”


One major factor in the new e-jet process is the use of plastic substrates, which are as thin as kitchen plastic wrap, allowing engineers to wrap the sensors around a catheter.


“The challenges of making these sensors on such thin plastic films were difficult to overcome, but we found that additive manufacturing approaches simplified the process, and should lead to much lower costs,” says John Conley, an OSU professor of electrical engineering.


OSU has applied for a patent on the technology. Meanwhile, Pacific Diabetes Technologies of Portland, Ore. is working on commercializing the system. It’s currently being tested in animals, and there doesn’t appear to be any roadblocks to its development in the health marketplace, according to professor Herman.