Analysing a person’s breathe could help detect if they have diabetes, according to new research published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS).
Diabetes diagnosis is usually made following a series of glucose-related blood tests, but now chemists at the University of Pittsburgh have demonstrated a sensor technology that could significantly simplify the diagnosis and monitoring of diabetes through breath analysis.
“Current monitoring devices are mostly based on blood glucose analysis, so the development of alternative devices that are non-invasive, inexpensive, and provide easy-to-use breath analysis could completely change the paradigm of self-monitoring diabetes,” Alexander Star, principal investigator of the project and Pitt associate professor of chemistry, said.
People with diabetes produce and exhale a larger of amount of acetone – a type of ketone which has a characteristic “fruity” odour – than non-diabetics.
To investigate this biomarker as a possible diagnostic tool, Star and colleagues combined titanium dioxide with carbon nanotubes to produce a single molecule electrical semiconductor that can act as a signal for the presence of acetone in a person’s breath.
The researchers found the tiny sensor could be activated by ultraviolet light to measure acetone vapours and monitor the need for insulin or other diabetes medication to maintain blood glucose control .
Star said the sensor has “excellent detection capabilities”, and if commercialised it could “transform the way patients with diabetes monitor their glucose levels”.
The Pitt team is currently working on developing a prototype of the sensor and plan to test it on human breath samples soon.

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