Diabetic children exhale higher levels of a chemical when their blood sugar is too high, U.S. researchers said on Monday, suggesting that a simple breath test could one day replace finger stick testing as a way to monitor diabetes.
Using a chemical analysis method devised for air pollution testing, researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found children with type 1 diabetes exhale much higher levels of methyl nitrates when their blood sugar is too high.
Type 1 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in children. It occurs when the immune system goes haywire and starts attacking insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
People with type 1 diabetes must monitor their blood sugar levels frequently using devices that pierce the skin to extract a small quantity of blood.
"It's invasive. It's painful and it can be expensive," said Dr. Pietro Galassetti, a diabetes researcher at University of California, Irvine. "What we are trying to do here is to come up with something completely noninvasive."
Galassetti said he believes it may be possible to develop a breath analysis test to monitor blood sugar.
He and colleagues tested the breath of 10 children with type 1 diabetes. They took air samples while blood sugar levels were high, and continued to take samples as blood sugar levels fell in response to insulin.
Chemists then examined these samples and found methyl nitrate was as much as 10 times higher than normal.
They cross-checked these gas readings with blood tests, which showed a correlation between high blood sugar and high levels of methyl nitrate.
"Not a silver bullet'
While a promising idea, Galassetti said more study is needed before the information is used to support a breath test.
"This is not a silver bullet," he said in a telephone interview. "The same correlation may not apply to all situations when the sugar is high."
The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. It was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
At least 194 million people worldwide have diabetes, and the World Health Organization expects that number to rise to more than 300 million by 2025. Most of these people have type 2 diabetes, which is linked to a poor diet and lack of exercise.
If blood sugar levels are too high, people with type 1 diabetes must inject insulin to bring them down these damaging glucose levels.