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Breath and 3 More Ways To Test Blood Sugar without Needles

Blood sugar testing without needles

What if you could use your breath to take your blood sugar levels? Researchers are hot on the trail of several needle-less ways for people with diabetes to measure blood sugar levels, and here are a few of them.


Two things people who have diabetes frequently say they wish for are a cure for the disease and a way to test blood sugar without having to prick their fingers or to use needles at all. Fortunately, research is ongoing in both regards, and it is the latter wish I am going to talk about now.

In addition to a new study that explains how people with diabetes may be able to use their breath to test blood sugar levels, there are also are three other needle-less ways I will discuss here. The other three methods are also under investigation.

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Blood sugar testing using breath
If you have ever been stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence (and I hope you have not!), you may have been given a Breathalyzer test. The same idea may be used to help people with diabetes check their blood sugar.

According to the new study’s lead researcher, Ronny Priefer, who is a professor of medical chemistry at Western New England University, the handheld device under investigation reacts to the chemical acetone in a person’s breath. Acetone is the substance that causes a person’s breath to smell sweet if their blood sugar levels are high.

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It’s known that acetone levels rise in association with an increase in blood sugar levels. However, experts are not yet certain whether this association is a reliable indication of the changes in a person’s blood sugar levels.

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Researchers need to clear several hurdles in their attempt to make a breath test for blood sugar levels. One is the potential impact of different foods or environmental factors (e.g., acetone in a person’s surroundings) on the readings. Another is the fact that high acetone levels do not always correspond with high sugar levels, and some people can have low blood sugar and high acetone, so this challenge will need to be addressed.

Pfiefer noted that if measurement of acetone levels using the breath does prove itself to be accurate, it could significantly improve how people manage their disease, since they won’t need to prick their fingers any more. Two clinical trials have been planned for 2014 to evaluate how acetone levels correspond to blood sugar levels.

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Three other needle-less ways to measure blood sugar
At the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), a research team has explored the possibility of using tears to measure blood glucose levels. So far the electrochemical sensor device has been tested in animals only, but if continuing research pans out, people with diabetes may want to shed a tear or two when checking their blood sugar levels.

Another idea is to use a person’s dead skin cells to get a glucose reading. This idea, which has been investigated by researchers at Georgetown University, involves a tiny biosensor device that is worn on the body that can take minute samples of fluids that are beneath the skin.

Yet another innovation comes from Purdue, where a team has developed a nanostructured biosensor that can detect glucose in blood, urine, saliva, and tears. This device uses new nanotechnology and nanoparticles that have an ability to detect glucose at extremely low concentrations.

Hopefully the day will soon arrive when people with type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes no longer need to prick their fingers, thighs, or arms to get a blood sugar reading. One thing is clear: researchers are working on some unique ways to test blood sugar without needles.

Ganesan N et al. Gold layer-based dual crosslinking procedure of glucose oxidase with ferrocene monocarboylic acid provides a stable biosensor. Analytical Biochemistry 2005 Aug 1; 343(1): 188-91
WebMD/American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists

Image: aldenchadwick/Flickr



Testing blood sugar without needles is truly an amazing advance in the search of diabetes management. I welcome this research and findings. Looking forward to more findings on curing this disease.
Thank you for your comments, Bradley. I join you in looking forward to more advancements in the fight against diabetes. I write extensively on this topic, so stay tuned for lots more information on many different facets of the disease and prevention, management, and lifestyle information.
Need the device please
This article was written in 2013. What is the update on this subject? How did the trials do that were conducted in 2014? Has there been any real progress of late?
Kevin: This is a good question. I did some searching and found a December 2014 article in which it was noted that Gus Hancock,PhD, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, and his colleagues are working on a prototype of a handheld device for monitoring breath acetone. The article states that the device is "being made by Oxford Medical Diagnostics and that Hancock's team hopes to begin testing it in 2015. As for the clinical trials, I was not able to locate any results.