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Can Fingerprints Predict Diabetes?

Apr 30, 2016

Fingerprint analysis may offer the possibility to assess diabetes risk through a non-invasive, inexpensive and simple test.

A research study at Longwood University suggests that fingerprint analysis may be able to assess diabetes risk as early as 17 weeks after conception. The technique involves use of wavelet analysis, the same fingerprint technology used by the FBI, to check print asymmetry. Individuals whose right-hand prints are highly dissimilar to their left-hand prints are at higher risk of developing diabetes later in life.


Study coauthor Dr. Bjorn Ludwar noted, in an interview released by Longwood University, “Our findings could eventually lead to the development of a cellphone application to determine the risk for developing diabetes and associated health problems later in life. The problem, especially with type 2 diabetes, is that typically you are first diagnosed in your early 50s, and the disease by then has already done a lot of damage to your body. Our most important finding is that we might be able to make a reliable prediction much sooner, creating time for lifestyle changes that prevent this damage.”

Ludwar suggests that existing technology, such as the built-in fingerprint sensor found on newer iPhones, could be used to analyze a person’s prints via a phone app; or fingerprints could be encrypted and sent to a server for analysis.

Ludwar sees the test as offering advantages over genetic testing for diabetes risk, since it would be less expensive and more easily available to the general public. It also has the advantage of diagnosing diabetes risk early, as opposed to tests that only identify prediabetes a few years before diabetes onset, when damage to the body may have already occurred.

According to Ludwar, in his presentation, the study was based on the concept of “fluctuating asymmetry,” which maintains that an organism’s genetic ability to cope with environmental stresses is reflected in deviation from perfect bilateral body symmetry. The greater the deviation, the less one’s ability to cope with environmental stress—making it more likely for certain diseases to manifest later in life.

Fingerprints were chosen for the study because, similar to diabetes, they are influenced by both genetics and the gestational environment. Fingerprints form during early gestation—beginning with the thumb at 6 weeks, then “moving down the line” and ending with the pinky at 17 weeks—and thereafter remain unchanged, said Ludwar.

“The use of fingerprints to diagnose diseases, called clinical dermatoglyphics, is currently a very active field of medical research, but to my knowledge we are the first to figure out how to efficiently measure fluctuating asymmetry and show that it might be useful to predict a person’s risk to develop diabetes,” he said.

Ludwar’s job was to quantify fingerprint asymmetry of the 340 research participants, about 200 of whom had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and another 57 with type 1. His technique is not affected by the orientation of the finger when the print was taken, and it is much more sophisticated than the old method of counting fingerprint ridges.

The research also involved Dr. Molly Morris, biology professor at Ohio University, and Dr. Jay Shubrook, director of OU’s Diabetes Endocrine Center at the time of the study.

Longwood student Mahelet Mamo, who plans to be a doctor, helped Ludwar with the data analysis. She has worked on several other projects in his electrophysiology lab at Longwood, which more typically focuses on brain functions. A neurobiologist by training, Ludwar conducted research as an assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City from 2005 until joining the Longwood faculty in 2014.

Ludwar, Morris and Shubrook are applying for funding to do a larger study and have been granted a provisional patent for their method of using fingerprints to detect the risk of diabetes.

Practice Pearls:

  • It may be possible to use fingerprints to detect risks for diabetes and prediabetes.
  • Fingerprints form during early gestation.
  • The use of fingerprints to diagnose diseases, called clinical dermatoglyphics, is currently a very active field of medical research.

Researched and prepared by Steve Freed, B Pharm, Diabetes Educator, Publisher and reviewed by Dave Joffe, BSPharm, CDE


A New Method to Assess Asymmetry in Fingerprints Could Be Used as an Early Indicator of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.”  published in the March issue of the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology.

“Longwood professor plays key role in research on diabetes-fingerprint asymmetry link,”  March 4 2016, http://www.longwood.edu/2016releases_64288.htm