Take a Deep Breath and Test Your Glucose Levels

The same product that is used as an amplifier in a cell phone may make it possible to give up finger prick glucose tests – at least if those researching the new breath-based device have anything to say about it.

According to ScienceDaily, “University of Florida engineers have designed and tested versions of the sensor for applications ranging from monitoring diabetics’ glucose levels via their breath to detecting possible indicators of breast cancer in saliva. They say early results are promising — particularly considering that the sensor can be mass produced inexpensively with technology already widely used for making chips in cell phones and other devices.”

Perhaps the important key to this research is that the technology is something that is already in existence – not something that would require significant capital to create. The Florida-based team “has published 15 peer-reviewed papers on different versions of the sensor, most recently in this month’s edition of IEEE Sensors Journal. In that paper, members report integrating the sensor in a wireless system that can detect glucose in exhaled breath, then relay the findings to health care workers. That makes the sensor one of several non-invasive devices in development to replace the finger prick kits widely used by diabetics,” said ScienceDaily.

A common belief has been that breath contains only trace amount of glucose, which may be too small to read in a breath test. However the University of Florida team insists the process they have developed does, in fact, have enough data to accurately test glucose levels in patients. “Instead of poking your finger to get the blood, you can just breathe into it and measure the glucose in the breath condensate,” researcher Fan Ren was quoted as saying. This same technology could be used to help those with Asthma to determine if they may be experiencing an asthma attack and begin treatment sooner. “The engineers have used other versions to experiment with picking up indicators of breast cancer in saliva, and pathogens in water and other substances,” reported ScienceDaily.

Many standard blood glucose meters can take as long as 30 seconds to provide a test result, Ren is quoted by ScienceDaily as saying, “At 100 microns, or 100 millionths of a meter, the UF sensor is so small that the moisture from one breath is enough to get a pH or glucose concentration reading — in under five seconds.”

As far as cost is concerned Ren indicates it could be “as little as 20 cents per chip, but goes up considerably when combined with applications to transmit the information wirelessly to computers or cell phones. The entire wireless-chip package might cost around $40, he said, although that cost could be cut in half with mass production.”

Michael Shur, professor of solid state electronics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute told ScienceDaily, “This is an important development in the field of biomedical sensors and a real breakthrough. Professors Fan Ren and Steve Pearton have made pioneering contributions to materials and device studies of nitrides, and now their work has led to the development of sensors that might improve quality of life for millions of patients.”

The team has patented some of the processes for this device and is working to patent more. Some suggest the device will never gain widespread appeal while others see it as an exciting potential in the early diagnosis of disease and a tool for long-term monitoring.