Diabetes breathalyzer in the making could eliminate finger sticks

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
University of Pittsburgh researchers working on diabetes breathalyzer.

University of Pittsburgh researchers are working on a new, inexpensive and non-invasive way to detect and monitor diabetes that uses breath analysis. The findings, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), suggest using a diabetes breathalyzer could simplify the lives of people living with diabetes.

Breath test for diabetes highly sensitive

The device uses a highly sensitive sensor to detect acetone levels in the breath. Acetone is the result of the breakdown of fatty acids in the blood. It is also exhaled by the lungs.

Researchers have been working on various sensors that can detect other diseases in the breath for several years, including cancer and even drugs in the bloodstream.

Test works by detecting exhaled acetone

The University of Pittsburgh chemists are developing the ‘diabetic breathalyzer’ that they refer to as ‘titanium dioxide on a stick’. The sensor takes advantage of acetone production from fatty acid metabolism in patients with diabetes.


Acetone is a byproduct of the breakdown of fatty acids that is exhaled as the body tries to compensate for high blood sugar levels. Acetone produces a ‘fruity odor’ in the breath.

The diabetes breathalyzer is made up of carbon nanotubes that are small molecules put together to form a solid object, combined with titanium dioxide to hold the nanoparticles together.

"Once patients are diagnosed with diabetes, they have to monitor their condition for the rest of their lives," said Alexander Star, lead investigator of the project and Pitt associate professor of chemistry in a press release.

"Current monitoring devices are mostly based on blood glucose analysis, so the development of alternative devices that are noninvasive, inexpensive, and provide easy-to-use breath analysis could completely change the paradigm of self-monitoring diabetes."

The finding is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The diabetes breathalyzer could make life simpler for people living with type 2 diabetes that could mean no more finger sticks and is also more cost effective. Star is hopeful, and says "Our measurements have excellent detection capabilities."

Image credit: Star/Sorescu/Ding, University of Pittsburgh


Please, click to subscribe to our Youtube Channel to be notified about upcoming health and food tips.