A simple breath test could soon replace the painful finger pricks used to monitor blood sugar level in children suffering from Type 1 diabetes.
In what could come as a boon to diabetic children, who undergo constant finger pricks, sometimes more than six times a day, American scientists have discovered a method of monitoring diabetes that tests the breath rather than the blood.
A study conducted by a team of chemists and pediatricians from the University of California, Irvine, has revealed that children with Type 1 diabetes exhale higher concentrations of methyl nitrates when they are hyperglycaemic or have too much glucose in their blood. The team used a chemical analysis method, developed for air pollution testing, to conduct the study.
Announcing their non-invasive method in the latest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, Dr Pietro Galassetti from UC, Irvine, said: "While no clinical breath test yet exists for diabetes, this study shows the possibility of non-invasive methods that can help millions who have this chronic disease."
Dr Sudhir Tripathy, endocrinologist, Sir Gangaram Hospital, New Delhi, said: "A breath test to monitor blood sugar level in children will be a boon. If analysing levels of methyl nitrates in the breath can give accurate levels, it will do away with the repeated finger pricks. Non-invasive methods developed earlier like the Glucowatch had not been successful in tropical weather."
During the study, researchers conducted breath-analysis testing on 10 children with Type 1 diabetes. They took air samples during a hyperglycemic state and progressively as they increased the children's blood insulin levels.
Chemists examined the exaled breath from the breath samples. They then measured the levels of over 100 trace gases and found methyl nitrate exhaled concentrations increased as much as 10 times more in diabetic children during hyperglycemia than when they had normal glucose levels. The methyl nitrate concentrations corresponded with the children's glucose levels — the higher the glucose, the higher the exhaled methyl nitrates.
Dr Galassetti said that during hyperglycemia, in Type 1 diabetes there are more fatty acids in the blood that cause oxidative stress.
Type 1 diabetes strikes children suddenly, makes them dependent on injected or pumped insulin for life. To stay alive, people with Type 1 diabetes must take multiple insulin injections daily and test their blood sugar by pricking their fingers for blood.
India is home to an estimated 46 million diabetics (the highest in the world, according to WHO).
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