Fingernails for easy diabetes diagnostics

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If it’s up to the University of Ghent, doctors soon won’t need blood anymore to detect diabetes. A piece of fingernail can be sufficient.

“Especially for developing countries, this method is a major step forward. We want to change the fact that many people over there don’t know that they have diabetes,“ says researcher Thijs Van de Vyver, a master student at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. “In small towns, there is little access to healthcare. A piece of a fingernail is enough to determine whether somebody has diabetes.”

Van de Vyver examined about four hundred participants, of which about one hundred suffer from diabetes. The pieces of fingernail have to be powdered and examined under an infra-red spectrophotometer. “This gives us information on the amount of glycation of the nails. From the analysis, it was very obvious that glycation is higher in diabetic patients.”

“This new method is easy and cheap,” claims Van de Vyver. “The spectrophotometer is a one-time expenditure. It fits easily into a car, so we can set up a mobile laboratory. Moreover, no medical staff is needed, because everyone can cut fingernails. A final advantage is that fingernails can be examined up to one month after cutting, while blood samples remain stable only for a short time.”

The tests are currently being redone in Congo. “If the results match those from our country, then the method can in principle be used immediately.”

Thijs Van de Vyver is nominated for the EOS-price 2015.