Diabetes breath test for children on the way

A breathalyser device that can detect the "sweet smell" of diabetes in children is under development by scientists.

The test is designed to spot early signs of an organic chemical with a distinctive aroma that is associated with the disease.

Acetone, often used in solvents such as nail polish remover, belongs to a family of compounds called ketones that accumulate in the blood when insulin levels are low.

Left unchecked, ketone build-up can lead to a dangerous condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) which occurs when the body becomes too acidic.

One in four children with type 1, or insulin-dependent, diabetes do not know they have the disease until they become severely ill with DKA.

For more than 200 years, acetone has been known to produce a sweet smell on the breath of diabetes sufferers.

But now, research has shown that small traces of acetone on the breath indicate increased levels of other blood ketones and can act as an early warning of type 1 diabetes.

Prof Gus Hancock from Oxford University said they were “working on the development of a small handheld device” to measure ketone levels.

“Currently, testing for diabetes requires a blood test which can be traumatic for children,” he said.

The research study appears in the Institute of Physics publication the Journal of Breath Research.


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