A few days ahead of World Diabetes Day (on November 14), information has been revealed about a new device, currently in the development phase, but which could improve early detection of the condition, particularly in disadvantaged communities. Only a smartphone and a saliva sample are needed to find out if you have diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a disorder which is characterized by difficulty in assimilating, using and storing sugar from food. It affected 9% of adults worldwide in 2014 and led to 1.5 million deaths in 2012 according to the World Health Organization. Over 80% of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries.

This new device, which has been developed by a multidisciplinary team from the US and Mexico, has been primarily designed to improve early detection in people on low incomes who do not always have access to healthcare.

Scientists at Tec de Monterrey in Mexico, in partnership with colleagues at the University of Houston in the US, have developed a device that is able to detect type 2 diabetes in saliva (or another biological marker), according to the press release published on October 31 in the science journal Investigacion y Desarrollo.

Avoiding the use of needles, this micro-cartridge adaptable to a smartphone tells the user whether they have type 2 diabetes in just a few seconds. The result is positive if a compound present in saliva reacts by becoming fluorescent. This is made possible by an enzymatic reaction and a technological process adapted to biochemistry.

“We wanted a device which could identify a biomarker in a sample of saliva, and it had to emit fluorescent light so that a phone camera could record it,” explained the project coordinator, Dr Marco Antonio Rite Palomares.

The device, which has proven to be “as simple as a pregnancy test”, is primarily intended for low-income groups and is planned to be available within two years, according to the press release.

The team has completed the development phase, and hopes to soon move into mass production if the device — which is primarily intended to make the patient’s life easier — is of interest to manufacturers.

If a diagnosis is only made several years after its emergence, type 2 diabetes can damage the heart, kidneys, blood vessels, eyes and nerves.