Kista-based Ascilion is one of the companies granted funding in the recent BIO-X call ‘New diagnostic solutions for disease monitoring’. It develops an electromechanical sensor that measures the level of glucose in the body without causing discomfort. This makes daily sample taking for people with diabetes a gentler and more pleasant experience.
“We are developing a technology that can prove to be very useful in diabetes. It can solve problems for many of those involved – patients, friends and families, doctors, manufacturers and distributors”, says Markus Renlund, CEO of Ascilion AB and with extensive experience in the semiconductor industry.
For many years, diabetes healthcare has sought non-invasive methods for measuring glucose concentrations in the blood, i.e. methods that do not require a painful needle puncture in a blood vessel in order to collect a sample volume. Ascilion’s method approaches this non-invasive ideal. It is based on smoothly extracting the so-called interstitial fluid found between cells and in biochemical equilibrium with the blood. However, one major technical difficulty that needed to be overcome was obtaining representative samples that gave reproducible values.
“It is also important to achieve this in a 'timely manner', i.e. quick enough so that the patient does not have to wait too long for the results”, adds Markus.
The glucose sensor that Ascilion is developing is smaller than a postage stamp and a minor miracle of electromechanics. Two hundred microscopic sampling needles penetrate 0.4 mm into the top layer of skin and suck up small amounts of interstitial fluid by means of capillary action. The sample volume is fed into a sensor that measures glucose concentration using microwave spectroscopy. The value obtained is then converted into an electrical measurement signal. This is read in a portable unit that transmits the data to an app in the patient’s smartphone.
The five engineers behind Ascilion, which was formed in 2012, all have backgrounds in semiconductor and chip development. Their combined experience comes from both industry and academia in fields spanning materials science to space technology.
“We have moved around the hi-tech industry in many different ways; as a medical technology company, we entered from the left field”, says Markus with a smile. He would especially like to express his appreciation to Innovation Akademiska, the Uppsala University Hospital innovation initiative through which the hospital offers an open test bed and development environment for innovators wanting to develop clinical applications.
“It’s very easy for technology-oriented start-ups to get lost in the physician-dominated world of clinical research. But Innovation Akademiska has been meticulous in always guiding us in the right direction”.
MEMS – micro-electro-mechanical systems
Ascilion’s glucose sensor is an example of a micro-electro-mechanical system or MEMS. The technology can best be described as small machines or gadgets in a miniature format. By utilising nano and semiconductor technology, functional units in the size range one micrometer to one millimetre can now be designed. Furthermore, they can already be manufactured inexpensively in large volumes; examples include various types of biosensors, gyroscopes pressure and sensors.