Breathalyzer Time!

The same tecnology to determine blood alcohol levels now available to detect diabetes

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Imagine employing breathalyzer technology that law enforcement uses to detect blood alcohol levels of drivers to detect diabetes. Well a team of researchers from Oxford University have created a device that does just that. It can flag patients as diabetic without the need for a blood test.

As it currently stands,  the only way to diagnose if someone is diabetic is draw blood from a  patient and check  it to determine if the person has diabetes. But because diabetes has a comes with a few metabolic it quirks it can be detectable in other ways. The Oxford device that detects acetones in the patient’s breath that are produced as a consequence of human metabolism.  And because of the lack of insulin that diabetes suffer from, their metabolisms can become compromised.

The condition that the device actually detects is ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is metabolic state marked by high concentration of ketone bodies, including acetones, that are created by the breakdown of fatty acids. The result of ketoacidosis is a myriad of metabolic failures that result in a high concentration of ketones like acetoacetic acid in the blood. As a consequence the acetoacetic acid in the bloodstream transforms into acetone and carbon dioxide, and can be detected in a person’s breath in the same way alcohol can be detected in the bloodstream. Ergo, the reason why diabetics are known to have “fruity-smelling” breath.

The Oxford prototypes  takes a sample of the patient’s breath a near-infrared laser is used to determine the concentration of acetone in the person’s breath. If he reading registers beyond a certain level, there is an increased likelihood of diabetes. During tests on humans, the scanner was able to match the results that were obtained using traditional and more expensive and time consuming technologies.

As an added bonus, the breathalyzer is is considerably smaller and less expensive than a mass spec instrument. With additional development, researchers hope this simple test could help to detect diabetes early on. Although diabetics would still be required to monitor their blood glucose levels with the standard finger prick, but a separate team at Cambridge is also designing   a breathalyzer test for that too. But instead of tracking acetone in the breath, it would search for a molecule called isoprene.

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MJ Stone is a Montreal writer and artist. He has worked as a journalist for the Globe and Mail and CBC and his copy has also been featured in Hour Magazine, MacLean's and Parabola Magazine. In 2012 Stone wrapped up his first novel, The fool. He has been writing and editing health-related material at Download Apps since 2014.