Scientists Develop Hand-Held 'Breathalyzer' to Diagnose Diabetes

Laser device probes ketone concentrations

For several years, scientists have been working toward “breathalyzers” that can diagnose various diseases without painful pinpricks, needles, or other unpleasant methods. Now, researchers in the United Kingdom have developed a new portable breath analyzer that could someday help doctors diagnose diabetes noninvasively in the office. Their research was published in Analytical Chemistry.

Many studies examining the hallmarks of diabetes in exhaled breath have shown that elevated levels of acetone are strongly linked to the disease. Detecting the concentrations of any given substance in breath in a simple way, however, is a major challenge. The human breath contains a complex mix of compounds, including water, carbon dioxide, and methane, that can interfere with test results. Mass spectrometry can do the job, but it’s not a practical method for point-of-care testing. Dr. Robert Peverall and his colleagues at the University of Oxford wanted to fill that void.

The researchers created a hand-held device with an adsorbent polymer that can trap acetone from exhaled breath and then release it into a cavity where a laser probes its concentration. They tested the accuracy of the device on the breath of healthy subjects under different conditions, such as after overnight fasting or exercising, and compared the results with mass-spectrometry readings. The measurements were a close match and covered a wide range of concentrations, including those that would suggest a person has undiagnosed type-1 diabetes or problems controlling their blood glucose, the authors reported. Adding to the potential practicality of the device, the researchers said it could be reused many times.

Source: ACS; November 9, 2016.