Breath tests could predict type 1 diabetes in children

Simple breath tests to diagnose type 1 diabetes before young patients develop serious illness are a 'realistic possibility', according to researchers.

Diabetes: blood test could be replaced (Photo: iStock)

A study, published in the Journal of Breath Research, suggests that clinicians could soon use non-invasive tests to detect the disease before the onset of diabetic acidosis (DKA) in children, which can cause severe illness.

Oxford researchers took blood samples from 113 subjects aged seven to 18 with type 1 diabetes to assess their capillary blood glucose and blood ketone levels, both of which are elevated in patients with the disease.

The subjects were then asked to exhale into a tube to measure the incidence of certain gases in their breath, including acetone.

Researchers compared these readings to determine whether there was an association between the gases present in the breath and the blood concentrations typical of the disease.

Breath test accurately predicts diabetes

The researchers found that elevated acetone levels in the breath coincided with raised ketone levels in the patients’ blood samples. There was no apparent relationship between breath acetone and blood glucose.

Acetone levels in exhaled breath could therefore accurately predict the levels of ketones in a patient’s blood, the results suggest.

This means a non-invasive breath test to detect diabetes could ‘realistically’ be developed as a surrogate to blood tests.

Co-author of the study, Professor Gus Hancock, said the team was now focusing on developing a small diagnostic tool for use in primary care.

He said: ‘Our results have shown that it is realistically possible to use measurements of breath acetone to estimate blood ketones.

‘We are working on the development of a small hand held device that would allow the possibility of breath measurements for ketone levels and help to identify children with new diabetes before DKA supervenes. Currently testing for diabetes requires a blood test which can be traumatic for children.’

He added: ‘A simple breath-test could assist with the management of sick days in children with diabetes, preventing hospital admissions by providing a warning of the possible development of DKA.’

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