A scientist has created a novel noninvasive breathalyzer device that he says can monitor blood glucose levels in diabetics. This is according to research presented at the 2013 American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) Annual Meeting and Exposition.

According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million people in the US suffer from diabetes – a disease that stops the natural uptake of sugar in the blood and often needs regular blood glucose monitoring.

Current technology to measure glucose in the blood includes the use of a portable testing meter. This is an electronic device that can measure sugar levels in the body from a small drop of blood.

But Ronnie Priefer, of Western New England University, Springfield, MA, says that this technology is invasive, can often cause discomfort for the patient, and can lead to low compliance – meaning there may be bad health outcomes.

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The new breathalyzer device (pictured) is able to detect acetone in the breath, revealing blood glucose levels.
Image credit: Western New England University

Therefore, he looked to create a new noninvasive technology with equal efficacy.

The hand-held breathalyzer was created using nanometer-thick films that are made up of two polymers.

These polymers are able to react with acetone. Acetone is one of the ketones – acids that remain in the body when the body burns its own fat. Ketones build up when there is not enough insulin to help fuel the body’s cells, meaning they are more common in people with diabetes.

In the breathalyzer device, the acetone joins to the polymers and alters the physical chemistry of the film. The film then discloses the amount of acetone detected, which in turn reveals glucose levels in the blood.

Commenting on the strengths of the device, Priefer says:

“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. What makes our technology different is that it only accounts for acetone and doesn’t react with other components in the breath.”

At present, the breathalyzer is a similar size to a book, but Priefer says that an engineer at Western New England University, Dr. Michael Rust, is helping to make the device a similar size to breathalyzers that are used to detect blood alcohol content levels.

Priefer notes that common shortfalls with other breathalyzer technologies have included inconsistent results due to natural humidity in the breath, high temperature requirements and lack of differentiation.

But he says that late next year and early 2015 will see the device being control tested by two clinics from Western New England University. These tests will compare readings from the breathalyzer with finger pricking and actual glucose levels from drawn blood.

He adds that he plans for the breathalyzer to be tested by patients in an uncontrolled setting in 2 years.

Medical News Today recently reported on the creation of an implantable sensor that could monitor cancer and diabetes.