February 7, 2012

A breathalyzer to detect diabetes


Today a breathalyzer is a dubious distinction of driving under the influence. But imagine if a breathalyzer could be used to detect diabetes. According to new research out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this technology is currently being developed.

The test can distinguish normal and diseased glucose metabolism by a quick assay of exhaled air. The advantage of the method allows the test to identify a biochemical presence before symptoms of the disease occur.

The initial study was done on mice with an endocrine disorder that can cause a wide range of symptoms. The goal of using this type of breath test is to find a more effective way to recognize the development of metabolic syndrome like diabetes, obesity, and other diseases.  

 The distinct difference in carbon-containing metabolic byproducts identified which mice were expressing sick or healthy pathways. Literally by measuring the exhaled breath, the test revels the inner workings of the body. It’s more complicated than it sounds but for simplicity sake – it’s undoubtedly accurate.

When compared to a blood test measuring the same changes in the body – the exhaled breath method is particularly exciting because it is non-invasive and even more sensitive than the blood-based assays.  In the mice, the techniques were sensitive enough to detect statistically significant differences between even very small populations of healthy and sick mice.

The company, Isomark, LLC,  is developing a small, hand-held “breathalyzer” device that could be used for this test. They hope to explore the underlying biology of disease and better understand whether the distinctive biochemical changes they can observe are causative or side effects.

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