pelikan-sun.jpgOne of the constant but unavoidable challenges in trying to control diabetes is the frequent need to test blood-sugar levels by sticking a needle into a fingertip — a step that tells diabetics when they need a snack (to raise blood glucose) or a shot of insulin (to lower it). “Lancing” fingers several times a day can render the tips so tender that it restricts ordinary activity — playing the piano, for instance — for some diabetics. While that may sound like a minor inconvenience compared to the awful side effects that uncontrolled diabetes can cause, such as gangrene and blindness, it’s often enough to keep some diabetics from testing their blood as frequently as they should.

Over the years, a number of companies have worked to minimize the pain of blood testing. (One of them, the former Therasense, was acquired by Abbott Laboratories for $1 billion in 2004.) Now Pelikan Technologies, a Palo Alto, Calif., company whose lineage traces back to Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, is preparing to launch a new electronically controlled device that it claims will virtually eliminate the pain associated with lancing.

pelikan-demo1-200px.jpgThe main advantage Pelikan claims is that its lancing is computer controlled in a way that prevents undue damage to the fingertip and minimizes pain by keeping the lancet from penetrating too deeply. Most lancets, the company alleges, go right past the capillaries that carry blood and into an underlying network of nerves — thus the pain. Pelikan’s lancet is supposed to stop short at the capillary level, although the company doesn’t say exactly how. (From the Web site, it looks as though users are supposed to select the insertion depth from one of 30 different settings, which doesn’t sound terribly convenient to me.) One of the company’s diagrams is at left; for their complete description, see here.

The Pelikan Sun also supposedly creates a straighter wound that heals more easily, and withdraws the needle more slowly to reduce the amount of damage caused to surrounding tissue. The lancet takes a disk prefilled with 50 needles, which also reduces the time and inconvenience of refilling a lancet pen.

Pelikan plans to launch its lancet, which is already on sale in Australia and Europe, in the U.S. early next year. The company is also at work on a new device that will combine the lancet with an electronic glucometer that measures sugar levels, in an attempt to reduce the number of items diabetics have to carry around with them. Normally a diabetic must first stick a finger with an injector-style pen device that quickly jabs a tiny needle in and out, then dab the blood on an absorbent treated strip that slots into a glucometer. The company hopes to launch the combined device next year as well.

Pelikan just raised $69 million in a sixth funding round, and pulled in another $20 million in venture debt financing. Investors in the equity round include Clarus Ventures, HBM BioVentures, Global Life Science Ventures, Mannheim Holdings and Bio*One Capital. The debt was provided by GE Capital and Oxford Finance.