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Needle-Free 'Breathalyzer' for Daily Diabetes Testing Shows Promise

But first, device must undergo clinical studies


Priefer and his colleagues developed a hand-held device that uses layers of a film that react with acetone to quantify the amount of acetone present in breath samples.

Right now, the breathalyzer is about the size of a book. The researchers are working to make the device smaller, so that it's similar to what's used by the police to measure blood alcohol levels. Priefer said that would make it about the size of a large coffee mug.

He said they have two clinical trials planned for 2014 to see if the levels of acetone go up linearly with a rise in blood sugar levels.

Priefer said he expects that the researchers will find that certain foods may affect the readings. And, of course, the presence of acetone in the environment would affect readings. So, if someone had just removed nail polish with an acetone-based remover, that would affect the readings.

"The ultimate goal is to replace the finger prick," he said. However, he said it remains to be seen whether the blood sugar measurements will be accurate enough to guide insulin dosing, or if the technology might just be useful for people with type 2 diabetes who don't use insulin.

One diabetes expert said he was glad to see treatment innovations but didn't think this one would be appropriate for all patients.

"I'm happy to learn that there are novel things in technology in development. But, the relationship between acetone and blood sugar isn't always one to one," said Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the clinical diabetes center at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City.

"People can have high blood sugars with low acetone, and low blood sugars with high acetone," Zonszein said. "I don't think acetone will be a good way of managing blood sugars, at least not for people with type 1 diabetes, where they really need very precise numbers to know how much insulin to give. It may be a help for people with type 2 diabetes, who aren't taking insulin."

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