A non-invasive device that measures a sweet-smelling chemical in the breath to indicate the risk of Type 1 diabetes in children is being developed by researchers from Oxford, who plan to have it in doctors' surgeries by the middle of 2015. Matthew Stock reports.
Testing for Type 1 diabetes typically involves a blood test. But researchers from Oxford have developed a technique to quickly diagnose children with Type 1 diabetes using a simple breath test. They linked a sweet-smelling chemical called acetone in the breath with a build-up of chemicals in the blood called ketones that accumulate when insulin levels are low. Oxford University Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, Gus Hancock, says they have expanded on knowledge gleaned from antiquity. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GUS HANCOCK, EMERITUS PROFESSOR OF CHEMISTRY AT OXFORD UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "It's been known for thousands of years, that people have noticed the sweet smell of the breath of people suffering from diabetes. And the sweet smell is this particular ketone that is given out; it's called acetone. And doctors have regularly smelt acetone on the breath of patients who are in a state of diabetic ketoacidosis and used it as a diagnostic." This shoe-box sized device is the current prototype. The acetone in the patient's breath is captured in this pre-concentrator before being measured using Cavity Enhanced Absorption Spectroscopy. Dr. Ian Campbell, from developers Oxford Medical Diagnostics, says they can measure acetone at sub-parts-per-million levels in breath using their device. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. IAN CAMPBELL, CEO OF OXFORD MEDICAL DIAGNOSTICS, SAYING: "In order to make breath measurements you have to account for the fact that breath has millions of compounds in it. We want to identify and measure one of them. So what we do is allow the patient to blow into the device, we extract out the volatile organic compound we wish to measure, in this case acetone. The remainder of the breath passes through the device. We then release the molecules that we're interested in into the cavity to make the measurement." (SOUNDBITE) (English) GUS HANCOCK, SHOWING A MODEL OF THE HAND-HELD BREATH ANALYSER, SAYING: "The aim that we have is to get this into a hand-held device, here, that somebody can pick up and use by simply blowing through a mouth-piece." They plan to have the working version of the device in doctors' surgeries by the middle of 2015. An even smaller device - that can be easily carried in a patient's bag - is also on the horizon. This, they say, could be a useful tool for weight control. While the developers say their device will not replace the standard blood test - it will act as a screen for children before further tests would be needed and give current diabetics a clearer picture of their condition.