Thanks to her innovative research on electrochemical sensors and the Institute of Biotechnology’s entrepreneurial approach, Professor Lisa Hall’s team have helped revolutionise the way diabetics monitor their blood glucose. Set up to commercialise the technology, AgaMatrix now sells millions of glucose meters and test strips every year, and launched the world's first iPhone-connected glucose meter.

Smartphone Apps – like the iBGStar – will help people take better control of their health

Professor Lisa Hall, Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology

This is a real step forward for patients, GP surgeries, hospitals and pharmacies

Dr Manir Hussain, North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Clinical Commissioning Groups

Diabetes App

AgaMatrix was founded in Boston, USA in 2001. Taking research by Professor Lisa Hall of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, who first suggested a way of developing new, more accurate blood glucose monitors, the idea was transformed into the new business by Marshall Scholar Dr Sridhar Iyengar.

By 2007, AgaMatrix had also established a UK subsidiary at Harwell Innovation Park and since 2008 has expanded to employ nine staff.

Its innovative technology – WaveSense™ – has now been built into a range of diabetes products including the diabetes iPhone App, iBGStar. Approved by the US FDA in 2011, iBGStar is the first smartphone-linked diagnostic device to gain FDA approval, and iBGStar also won the Red Dot and Good Design awards – an honour shared with Apple, Mercedes and Bose products.

As well as its iBGStar, AgaMatrix has developed more than 10 FDA-cleared products protected by more than 120 pending and granted patents worldwide.

By 2012, AgaMatrix had sold 3 million glucose meters and test strips and today its products are sold in over 20,000 pharmacies worldwide. In 2013, the NHS in Staffordshire decided to give WaveSense™ Jazz meters to patients, saving the NHS £350,000. If the NHS adopted WaveSense™ nationwide, cost savings could top £4 million a year.

Global epidemic

Diabetes is an emerging global epidemic. The WHO estimates that 347 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes and between 2005 and 2030, deaths from diabetes will double – 80% of which will be in poorer countries. A leading cause of blindness, amputation and kidney failure, diabetes is a massive burden on global healthcare systems.

As well as tackling obesity and physical inactivity, health professionals urgently need better ways of monitoring and treating the disease.

Controlling diabetes well depends on precise monitoring of patients' blood glucose levels, but traditional blood glucose monitors – which rely on so-called static electrochemistry – are accurate only to plus or minus 20%.

Many factors – from paracetamol to vitamin C – can distort blood samples; the challenge was how to improve the accuracy of blood glucose monitors – something Cambridge research has achieved thanks to innovative electrochemistry.


Back to basics

Hall's research into electrochemical biosensors took a different approach to controlling the electrochemistry. Building on her work solving the blood-gas difference in oxygen electrodes by using dynamic electrochemistry, her research team looked at non-linear currents and gradients arising from different potential waveforms in mixed blood samples and, at Cambridge between 1998 and 2000, her group examined biosensor construction from first principles, allowing them to develop new formats and measurement regimes.

Existing systems mostly applied a fixed voltage stimulus to the electrochemical sensor and measured a steady-state current. Although a simple way of measuring glucose concentrations, it was not accurate enough.
Hall's idea was to apply a variable, wave-like signal instead. Together with some clever advanced processing this then allowed the biosensor to compensate for electrochemical reactions due to interfering substances such as paracetamol or vitamin C, as well as the glucose reaction itself.

WaveSense™ flowed from this initial idea. Error-correcting input signals from WaveSense™ mean blood glucose meters provide more comprehensive data, information which, when coupled with sophisticated digital signal processing (DSP) algorithms, give much more accurate glucose readings.