Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the U.K. have developed a low-cost, reusable sensor that uses nanotechnology to screen for diabetes.

The sensor will soon be tested in sub-Saharan Africa, and will be used to monitor the disease in research-poor settings, according to Bioscience Technology.

Nanotechnology is used to keep track of glucose, lactate and fructose levels in people with diabetes and urinary tract infections. The sensor changes color when high concentrations are reached in the levels, and can also be used for testing compounds in urine, blood, saliva and tear fluid samples.

The sensors were used in clinical trials at Addenbrooke's Hospital earlier this year to monitor glucose levels in 33 diabetic patients, The University of Cambridge reported. The team will also work with a non-governmental organization recently to use the sensor in the field early next year in Ghana.

The International Diabetes Federation estimated that there are 175 million patients undiagnosed with diabetes around the world, with 80 percent of them in countries with low and middle income.

The team uses laser light to develop the sensor within seconds by organizing metal nanoparticles into alternating layers in thin films of gel, Bioscience Technology reported. Trials conducted earlier this year at Cambridge showed that the sensors performed better than commercial glucose test strips and just as well as state-of-the-art fully-automated glucose monitoring technology.

The technology can also be made at a fraction of the cost of commercially-available test strips. It would cost just 20 pence to produce one sensor, which could be used up to 400 times, unlike disposable urine test strips, which cost almost 10 pence for every use. Using lasers allows the sensor to be easily manufactured at scale.

"These sensors can be used to screen for diabetes in resource-poor countries, where disposable test strips and other equipment are simply not affordable," said Ali Yetisen, a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology and leader of the research.

The research team is currently working on a prototype smartphone-based test that can be used in clinical and home testing of diabetes and other conditions, The University of Cambridge reported.

"The value of these reusable sensors will be realized when they are mass produced and adopted as a diagnostic tool for routine diabetes screening," said Yunuen Montelongo, co-author of the study.

The research was published in the journal Nano Letters.