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Hand-held ‘breathalyzer’ has potential for diabetes diagnosis

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A report published in ACS journal Analytical Chemistry details the development of a new, portable breath analyzer that could allow for the quick and noninvasive diagnosis of diabetes in the doctor’s office.

The diagnosis of many diseases currently requires the use of pinpricks, needles or other unpleasant methods. As such, in recent years scientists have been working towards “breathalyzers” that allow for diagnosis noninvasively.

Previous studies have shown that elevated levels of acetone in exhaled breath are linked to diabetes. It is, however, a major challenge to detect the concentration of a given substance in breath as the complex mix of compounds it contains, including water and carbon dioxide, canimpact on the reliability of results.

Mass spectrometry has the ability to detect substances in the breath but it is not practical for use at the point of care. Robert Peverall, Group Leader at the Physical and Theoretical Chemistry Laboratory, University of Oxford, and his colleagues set out to find a solution to this problem.

The hand-held device designed by the researchers has an adsorbent polymer that traps acetone from exhaled breath. A laser then measures the concentration of acetone.

The accuracy of the device was tested and compared with mass spectrometry under various conditions, including after overnight fasting or exercising.

It was discovered that the measurements were closely matched and indicative of a wide range of concentrations, including those that would suggest a patient has undiagnosed type-1 diabetes, or has problems controlling his/her blood glucose. The device can also be used many times, adding to its practicality.

The breathalyzer could reduce the need for invasive diagnostics and may prove a quick and efficient way to diagnose and monitor diabetes.

Source: Blaikie TP, Couper J, Hancock G et al. Portable Device for Measuring Breath Acetone Based on Sample Preconcentration and Cavity Enhanced Spectroscopy. Analytical Chemistry (2016); DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.6b02837

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