Breath test for diabetes

March 24, 2008 9:20:05 AM PDT
According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 20 million American's have some form of diabetes. About 10 percent of those have type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes. These individuals must rely on insulin for their survival and need to monitor their blood glucose levels closely. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas undergoes an autoimmune attack by the body itself, and is rendered incapable of making insulin. While the exact cause of type 1 diabetes is still unknown, abnormal antibodies have been found in the majority of patients with type 1 diabetes. It is believed that the tendency to develop abnormal antibodies in type 1 diabetes is, in part, genetically inherited, though the details are not fully understood. The condition tends to run in families, making first degree relatives (sibling or parent) of a patient with type 1 diabetes more likely to develop the disorder themselves.

In autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly manufactures antibodies and inflammatory cells that are directed against and cause damage to patients' own body tissues. In persons with type 1 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas, which are responsible for insulin production, are attacked by the misdirected immune system.

MONITORING BLOOD SUGAR: Most people are familiar with diabetic testing -- drawing a small amount of blood, usually from a fingertip, to test the blood's glucose levels. "It's invasive. It's painful and it can be expensive," Pietro Galassetti, M.D., Ph.D., a diabetes researcher at the University of California, Irvine, was quoted as saying. "What we're trying to do here is to come up with something completely noninvasive."

At UC Irvine, researchers are working to develop a painless breath test to determine when a patient's blood sugar is high. Dr. Galassetti and colleagues tested the breath of ten children with type 1 diabetes. They took breath samples while blood sugar levels were high, then continued to gather samples as blood sugar levels dropped in response to insulin. They found methyl nitrate was as much as ten times higher than normal when blood sugar levels were high.

NO MORE NEEDLES? Dr. Galassetti cautions patients and parents shouldn't get ahead of themselves. More study is needed on this correlation before a breath test can become a widespread option. However, experts say a painless method to test blood sugar could make patients -- especially young ones -- more likely to test their levels and stay ahead of their disease.


Pietro Galassetti, M.D.
UCI Medical Center - Building 25, 2nd Floor
101 The City Dr.
Orange, CA 92868