A breath test for diabetes, is it possible?

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It is estimated that by 2030, over 300 million people worldwide will have diabetes. For some sufferers diabetes can have a huge effect on their day-to...

It is estimated that by 2030, over 300 million people worldwide will have diabetes. For some sufferers diabetes can have a huge effect on their day-to-lives, having to endure daily blood tests to monitor their condition. This can be inconvenient, traumatic and time consuming.

Oxford Medical Diagnostics (OMD) is a company with a speciality in the field of breath and gas analysis and it is currently developing new techniques to analyse human breath for the screening, diagnosis and monitoring of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

So far, the company has raised almost £2 million in private investment to fund its research of these breath analysis devices. Healthcare Global caught up with David Taylor, a Technical Director at OMD to find out more about this latest healthcare innovation.

Exactly how does the breath screening of diabetes work?

One key symptom of diabetes is the uncontrolled burning of fat, owing to the inhibited use of blood glucose as a source of energy. This breakdown of fat leads to the enhanced production of one of the most abundant breath biomarkers – acetone –which many clinicians have highlighted as the ideal biomarker for the non-invasive screening, diagnosis and monitoring of diabetes. However, the amount of acetone found in the breath is very small; in general just a few parts per million, which makes the accurate detection of acetones particularly challenging.

OMD is developing two novel approaches to the quantitative detection of breath acetone: Cavity Enhanced Absorption Spectroscopy (CEAS) for a screening and diagnostic device and Plasma Emission Spectroscopy (PES) for a handheld monitoring device. Since breath contains up to 1,000 other biomarkers, the specificity of these techniques means that they serve as invaluable tools in the breath analysis market.

How will this test help people to manage their diabetes and improve their day-to-day lives?

For a diabetic, the daily drawing of blood currently required to monitor diabetes can be a disruptive and unpleasant routine. As a result, many diabetics don’t monitor themselves the four-seven times a day that clinicians recommend. A completely non-invasive breath test will be priceless in this respect, being totally painless and requiring minimal interaction from the user. It is hoped that diabetics will therefore feel inclined to monitor their condition more closely. This is particularly true of young sufferers, for whom daily blood tests are perhaps most traumatic. The particular device being developed for this purpose will be based on PES technology.

How is the development of the devices going? How far along is it?

The screening device based on CEAS technology is nearing the stage of prototype development. It is envisaged a product will be on the market within a year to 18 months from now. The daily monitoring device is less well developed as the PES technology it is based upon is still relatively new when compared with CEAS. That said, OMD aims to have a prototype developed by January 2013 and a product on the market another year or so after that.

What is the likelihood of the device eventually being available on a global scale?

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects people all over the world. Recent reports from the World Health Organisation suggest that in the year 2000, 171 million people were said to be diabetic and this number if expected to double by 2030. Clearly, non-invasive screening and daily monitoring breath tests will become increasingly more important on a global scale. The company hopes to meet this need effectively with its products.

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