The Diabetes ‘Breathalyzer’ – It Could Improve the
Way of Life for Many Senior Citizens
Pitt chemists demonstrate sensor technology that
could detect and monitor diabetes through breath analysis alone
June 10, 2013 – As millions of senior citizens
know, diabetes patients often receive their diagnosis after a series of
glucose-related blood tests in a hospital, and then have to monitor
their condition daily through expensive, invasive methods. Chemists at
the University of Pittsburgh think they have found a way to
significantly simplify the diagnosis and monitoring of diabetes through
breath analysis alone.
Their sensor technology findings were published in
the latest issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society
Even before blood tests are administered, those
with diabetes often recognize the condition’s symptoms through their
breath acetone - a characteristic “fruity” odor that increases
significantly with high glucose levels. The Pitt team was interested in
this biomarker as a possible diagnostic tool.
“Once patients are diagnosed with diabetes, they
have to monitor their condition for the rest of their lives,” said
Alexander Star, principal investigator of the project and Pitt associate
professor of chemistry.
“Current monitoring devices are mostly based on
blood glucose analysis, so the development of alternative devices that
are noninvasive, inexpensive, and provide easy-to-use breath analysis
could completely change the paradigm of self-monitoring diabetes.”
Together with his colleagues - Dan Sorescu, a
research physicist at the National Energy Technology Laboratory, and
Mengning Ding, a Pitt graduate student studying chemistry - Star used
what’s called a “sol-gel approach,” a method for using small molecules
(often on a nanoscale level) to produce solid materials.
The team combined titanium dioxide - an inorganic
compound widely used in body-care products such as makeup - with carbon
nanotubes, which acted as “skewers” to hold the particles together.
These nanotubes were used because they are stronger than steel and
smaller than any element of silicon-based electronics.
This method, which the researchers playfully call
“titanium dioxide on a stick,” effectively combined the electrical
properties of the tubes with the light-illuminating powers of the
titanium dioxide. They then created the sensor device by using these
materials as an electrical semiconductor, measuring its electrical
resistance (the sensor’s signal).
The researchers found the sensor could be activated
with light to produce an electrical charge. This prompted them to “cook”
the “skewers” in the sensor under ultraviolet light to measure acetone
vapors—which they found were lower than previously reported
“Our measurements have excellent detection
capabilities,” said Star. “If such a sensor could be developed and
commercialized, it could transform the way patients with diabetes
monitor their glucose levels.”
The team is currently working on a prototype of the
sensor, with plans to test it on human breath samples soon.
The paper, “Photoinduced Charge Transfer and
Acetone Sensitivity of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotube-Titanium Dioxide
Hybrids,” was first published in JACS online June 5. The work was
performed in support of ongoing research at the National Energy
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