Having the ability to check glucose levels without taking a blood sample would transform diabetes care and improve the lives of people living with the disease. One way of doing this is to measure the concentration of acetone in exhaled breath, which is a biomarker that indicates how much glucose is in the person’s blood. Researchers at Western New England University have developed a unique technology that may finally make this possible in a portable and affordable device.
We spoke with Dr. Ronny Priefer of the university’s Department of Pharmaceutical & Administrative Sciences, one of the principal scientists that worked on this technology, to explain how their acetone breathalyzer works.
The basic problem with accurately gauging acetone in breath is that there is considerably more water in each sample than acetone. There are only a few parts per billion of acetone within the 100% humidity of our breath, so most previous attempts at creating acetone breathalyzers have focused on filtering the water out. This is more difficult than it sounds if you want to preserve acetone while systematically removing all water from a sample, and so we haven’t actually seen such a device make it to market. There is also a good deal of isoprene that we exhale, but since its boiling point is low it evaporates on its own and doesn’t create its own challenge.
Avoiding the process of removing water from the sample, Dr. Priefer’s team took a completely different approach and actually used the water as an activation agent for their sensor. The technology consists of alternating layers of polymers that swell up when humid air is introduced to them. The polymer layers are designed so that their swelling allows acetone to penetrate, leading the polymers to cross-link and create bridges between the layers. This cross-linking is then detected using spectroscopy and the amount of crosslinking is proportional to the amount of acetone in the sample, and in turn the concentration of glucose in a patient’s blood. The whole process takes about ten seconds, which is faster than a simple blood prick glucose test.
The technology isn’t very expensive, opening the door for it to make into clinical practice. It will probably have to prove itself in an FDA 510(k) study before receiving approval, but a protoype already exists and a clinical trial is in the works. A patent has been accepted and a published manuscript is expected soon that will provide more details about the technology.
There are a lot of challenges for the technology to prove itself, as it will have to be trialed in different situations such as high altitudes, cold temperatures, humid environments, and home and clinical settings. Importantly, it will have to be tested with hypoglycemics.
We thank Dr. Priefer for helping us understand the technology his team has developed and are looking forward to seeing acetone breathalyzers replace traditional glucometers for diabetics the world over.
Flashbacks: Accurate Acetone Measurement in Breath for Quick Diabetes Diagnosis…; Breathalyzer Tech: Acetone Nanosensor Could Measure How Well You Manage Your Diabetes…; Titanium Dioxide Coupled with Carbon Nanotubes for Next Generation Glucose Testing…; New Breath Sensor for Indirect Glucose Monitoring, Cancer Detection…