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14 October, 2020 - 14:44 By Tony Quested

Glyconics to start low-cost diabetes screening in Africa

Cambridge and Norwich diagnostics innovator Glyconics has won an £85k UK government grant to implement low-cost diabetes screening in developing countries.

The startpoint is the Democratic Republic of the Congo which has the fifth highest incidence of the condition in Africa.

The initial six-month programme deploys Glyconics’ pioneering handheld diabetes screening device backed by grant aid under the Global Challenges Research Fund.

The company’s point-of-care technology platform exploits the ability of Infra-Red Spectroscopy to analyse diverse samples, producing a distinctive molecular fingerprint of diseases. 

Until now, Infra-Red Spectrometry technology was too large to be used outside of a hospital and could only be undertaken by highly trained staff in a laboratory. 

Glyconics’ portable handheld device with miniaturised IR Spectroscopy has changed that. It is also simple to use, requires no blood and there is no expensive single-use plastic cartridges to be disposed of afterwards.

According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), Africa has the highest instances of undiagnosed diabetes with as many as 60 per cent of adults currently living with the condition but unaware that they have it. 

The IDF estimates that there are close to 19 million adults in Africa living with diabetes and a further 45 million with Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT). IGT sufferers are at higher risk of developing type-2 diabetes which is preventable or at least manageable through lifestyle if caught early.

Working in conjunction with Diabetes Africa and Université Catholique de Bukavu, the project is being funded by UK Research and Innovation.

Now in its fifth year, the £1.5 billion GCRF fund supports cutting-edge research projects that address the challenges faced by developing countries and have the potential to transform lives. 

Glyconics CEO, Dr Kam Pooni says: “We are thrilled, firstly to have received this GCRF grant which is enabling us to work on this very important project  and secondly, to be working with key partners so that we can understand how best to introduce our technology into developing countries.”

Greg Tracz, CEO of Diabetes Africa, which will be contributing to the programme’s research with key stakeholders during the first phase of the project in DRC, says: “To be taken up, innovation needs information. It’s important to ensure that new devices and tools with the potential to reduce the cost of diabetes care are designed to fit local needs and help people on the ground address their daily challenges.” 

During the second phase of the project – which is set to start in December – Université Catholique de Bukavu will be field-testing Glyconics’ prototype in DRC. 

Professor Dr. Cikomola Cirhuza, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Université Catholique de Bukavu, says: “I’m very excited to be working with Glyconics on the development of their device. 

“Current diagnostic tests are prohibitively expensive and it can take patients 1-2 days to even reach a clinic. A need for a low-cost point-of-care screening test in rural as well as urban areas is very clear.”

• PHOTOGRAPH: Bukavu where the six-month low-cost screening project is initially focused

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