Replacing the finger-prick test by a “breathalyser” test?

According to a research team from the University of Irvine, in California, individuals who suffer from type 1 diabetes exhale higher levels of methyl nitrate when their blood glucose (sugar) levels are too high (hyperglycaemia). Their recent discovery could potentially lead to the development of a breath test, a definite ray of hope for diabetics who have to prick the tips of their fingers several times a day to test their blood glucose levels.

According to a research team from the University of Irvine, in California, individuals who suffer from type 1 diabetes exhale higher levels of methyl nitrate when their blood glucose (sugar) levels are too high (hyperglycaemia). Their recent discovery could potentially lead to the development of a breath test, a definite ray of hope for diabetics who have to prick the tips of their fingers several times a day to test their blood glucose levels.

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease characterized by an insulin deficiency. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, whose role is to help the body metabolize sugar. If the pancreas does not produce any or enough insulin, the levels of glucose in the blood increase. This is called hyperglycaemia. However both hyperglycaemia and hypoglycaemia (low levels of glucose in the blood) have very dire consequences, as these imbalances can lead to what is called a “diabetic coma”, and even death. This is the reason individuals with type 1 diabetes must inject insulin several times a day, to regulate the levels of glucose in their blood. Diabetics must also measure their blood glucose levels several times a day to make sure they are neither too high nor too low, adjusting the dose of insulin accordingly.

The discovery of the variations of methyl nitrate according to the levels of glucose in the blood is certainly promising news, as it could lead to a non-invasive test to measure blood sugar. But for now, patients still have to prick the tip of a finger to obtain a drop of blood which is deposited onto a strip that is then inserted into a device called a blood glucose meter. And although some of these devices allow you to take blood from another part of the body, they nevertheless require a prick test.

This potential breath test could be similar to the breathalyser test used to determine levels of alcohol in the blood. Even though additional testing is required before such a test can see the light of day, it remains a very hopeful discovery for diabetics everywhere!

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