According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 100 million Americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes. In 2015, diabetes was considered to be the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States. But the Obesity Society notes that the single best predictor of type 2 diabetes is being obese or overweight, and other research shows that health problems associated with obesity are the second-leading cause of preventable death. Subsequently, these problems may be more widespread than we’d realized.
There are certainly ways to prevent the onset of this condition. The Mediterranean diet, for example, can help protect individuals from developing type 2 diabetes, as can increasing one’s physical activity. In some cases, lifestyle changes can allow formerly diagnosed individuals to get control of their blood sugar and later be declared non-diabetic. But that’s not the case for everyone, especially when physical abnormalities brought on by the disease itself make it hard for those lifestyle changes to even occur.
There are countless negative health effects associated with diabetes, but one of the most painful has to be the foot ulcers. Data shows that 15% of diabetics will develop these painful sores on their feet. Unfortunately, many of these ulcers go unnoticed and they cannot heal on their own. As a result, anywhere from 14% to 25% of diabetics who develop ulcers end up losing toes, a foot, or an entire leg because of them.
While around 75% of urgent care patients rated their treatment as being good or excellent in 2016, serious medical issues like diabetic ulcers can’t really be treated in an urgent care facility. However, they may soon be treated via a different, even more unlikely source: shoe insoles.
A team of researchers from Perdue University have developed a two-layer shoe insole made of polydimethylsiloxane (a type of silicone). But what’s really special about these insoles is that the bottom layer is actually a chamber containing oxygen. The top layer is designed to be oxygen-permeable in the exact spot where a theoretical ulcer would be located. The reasoning? One of the only ways to heal these ulcers is with oxygen.
Throughout the day, the wearer would benefit from gradually released oxygen directly on the wound, which can help to provide mobility. Simulations conducted on the insole prototype found that it can deliver oxygen for at least eight hours a day for someone weighing anywhere between 117 and 179 pounds. However, the insole can actually be customized to treat patients of any weight.
Eventually, researchers want to use other types of technology to create mass-produced insoles. Rather than resorting to mold and laser-machining, they want to 3D print the entire insole. This technology has been used widely within the medical community, as well as to create concrete materials and other construction products. The insole will then be tested on actual diabetic ulcers to assess whether their theories hold up. If they do, researchers think it may be possible to send a diabetic patient a pack of pre-filled insoles that would be customized to the patient’s wound site — a cost-effective, tailor-made solution from which many diabetics would benefit.
The possibility of bringing these insoles for market may be a bit far off for now, but the research team is actively seeking corporate partners to collaborate on commercializing their patent-pending creation. With any luck, it won’t be too long before this technology can become a reality and help countless Americans dealing with the effects of diabetes.