Breath Test for Diabetes

6/8/2008 IRVINE, Calif. Fourteen-year-old Robbie Mansfield pricks his finger seven times a day. That means this young baseball fan tests his blood sugar 2,555 times a year. But now, there may be a painless way to collect those numbers.

Doctor Pietro Galassetti thinks he's found it. Dr. Galassetti collected breath samples from diabetic children while blood sugar levels were high and as levels fell in response to insulin. Using a technique developed to test air pollution, chemists detected high concentrations of methyl nitrate -- a byproduct of the damage to body tissue -- when blood sugar levels are too high.

"And we saw that the children who had high blood sugar had very high methyl nitrate in their breath and then as we gradually corrected the blood sugar, the methyl nitrate in their breath was coming down," says Pietro Galassetti, M.D., a diabetes researcher at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center in Irvine, Calif.

While still five to ten years off, Dr. Galasetti sees a hand-held breath analyzer replacing the standard blood test.

"Not having to stop and test his blood -- just be able to blow into a canister or whatever. It'll be amazing," Robby's mom, Julie, says.

"It would be a lot easier. I could have more of a normal life without having to step out every couple of hours to test my blood sugar," Robby says.

If it's easy, kids are more likely to do it. Controlling glucose levels now lowers Robby's chance of complications down the road … and increases his shot at the big leagues.

Breath analysis has already shown promise in diagnosing ulcers and cystic fibrosis. Dr. Galassetti says eventually, we may be able to monitor insulin and cholesterol with a breath test.

University of California, Irvine
Pietro Galassetti, M.D.

UCI Medical Center
101 The City Dr.
Building 25, 2nd Floor

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