Breath Test Could Someday End Finger Prinks

While a Breathalyzer test is traditionally used to check blood alcohol levels, researchers have created a breath test that could ultimately help determine blood sugar levels as well.

That, researchers say, could put an end to the dreaded finger pricks – the bane of many people with diabetes, especially those with type 1 who have to check their blood sugar levels multiple times daily – for good.

The test, developed by researchers at Western New England University in Springfield, Mass., measures the amount of acetone in the breath. Acetone is an organic compound produced by the body as part of the process of metabolism. As blood sugar levels rise, so do levels of acetone, and those with diabetes have higher levels of both.

Researchers hope that the breath test, which measures acetone levels through polymers that react to the presence of acetone, will also accurately reflect blood sugar levels.

“Breathalyzers are a growing field of study because of their potential to have a significant positive impact on patients’ quality of life and compliance with diabetes monitoring,” said Ronny Priefer, a professor of medical chemistry at the university. “What makes our technology different is that it only accounts for acetone and doesn’t react with other components in the breath.”

The hand-held device is currently about the size of a book, but researchers are looking at ways to make it smaller and more manageable to fit better into people’s daily lives.

“The ultimate goal is to replace the finger prick,” said Priefer, adding that continued research is required to determine if the test’s blood sugar measurements are accurate enough to be used to coordinate insulin doses, or if the test will be suitable for those with type 2 who are not using insulin.

Priefer is scheduled to perform controlled testing in 2014 and 2015 to compare readings from his breath test to blood glucose results from finger pricks and blood glucose meters.

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