The diabetes epidemic of 2011 ended up killing around 10 Lakh people in India. Nearly half the diabetic people in the country don’t even know that they have the disease. Diabetes is one disease that is taken lightly by many. Many don’t realize the fact that late detection and delayed treatment of the disease can expose them to heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, amputations, blindness and nerve damage. By the year 2030, the Indian diabetic population is expected to cross the 100 million mark. Currently, India is only second to China, which is known as the World Capital for diabetes.
In order to help in the early detection of diabetes, a Bangalore based lab called Achira Labs has devised a way to hand weave diabetes test strips from silk. The standard material used for manufacturing of these strips is mainly plastics and paper but in order to reduce the manufacturing costs, challenges and environmental concerns associated with these standard manufacturing materials, Achira came up with silk made diabetes strips. Silk is an easily available material in India and the weavers who can work a handloom are also present in abundance.
The silk strips are expected to hit the market this year. People suffering from diabetes can use the strips to monitor their blood sugar levels on a regular basis. All they need to do is prick a fingertip, dab a blood drop onto a test strip, and then feed the strip into a glucose reader. This thought of using silk for medical sensors is not a first for Achira labs. The lab had earlier also manufactured silk strips that changed color when they detected deadly type of diarrhea in the diapers.
The silk strips provides exactly the same information as other types of glucose strips and are much easier to manufacture when compared to their glucose counterparts. Traditionally, the plastic and paper strips are sprayed with enzymes that help in breaking down of blood sugar into electricity. Then a machine is required to embed the electrodes in the material, so that the electrical signals can be transmitted into the glucose meter. On the other hand, the silk strips manufactured by Achira only require the spray. The coated threads can then conduct the electrochemical signals.
Currently, a box of 100 plastic or paper strips costs around $25 or Rs. 1,600. A box of silk strips on the other hand will cost one-third to one-quarter of that. The price factor is very critical in a country like India. According to the World Health Organization, a low-income Indian family supporting a diabetic relative ends up spending up to 25 percent of its income on care, while a similar family in the United States spends around 10 percent.
Achira is not only helping diabetic patients to reduce the costs of their treatment but it is also helping women weavers earn money and lead a respectable life. In order to do so, Achira Labs has teamed up with the Working Women’s Forum, a forum which helps marginalized women with handicraft skills, like silk weaving, start small businesses. The company has recently received a $ 100,000 grant from Grand Challenges Canada. The team has plans of using the money in recruiting women to open 5 weaving hubs in suburban and rural towns across Tamil Nadu.