Finger-prick alternative for diabetics?

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
March 17, 2008 3:28:58 PM PDT
Every day, millions of diabetics go through the painful, time-consuming process of drawing blood.But they soon may be able to check their blood sugar without any needles.

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg to explain.

It's more of an annoyance that anything else to people with diabetes, testing their blood sugar levels again and again during the day. But there soon may be a way to check those levels without ever touching the skin.

Fourteen-year-old Robby Mansfield pricks his finger seven times a day. That means this young baseball fan tests his blood sugar 2,555 times a year.

But now, there may be a painless way to collect those numbers. Dr. Pietro Galassetti thinks he's found it.

Galassetti collected breath samples from diabetic children while blood sugar levels were high and as levels fell in response to insulin.

Using a technique developed to test air pollution, chemists detected high levels of methyl nitrate, a byproduct of the damage to body tissue when blood sugar levels are too high.

"And we saw that the children who had high blood sugar had very high methyl nitrate in their breath," Dr. Galassetti said. "And then, as we gradually corrected the blood sugar, the methyl nitrate in their breath was coming down."

While still five to 10 years off, Dr. Galasetti sees a hand-held breath analyzer replacing the blood test.

"Not having to stop and test his blood, just be able to blow into a canister or whatever," Robby's mom, Judy, said. "It'll be pretty amazing."

"It would be a lot easier," Robby said. "I could have more of a normal life without having to step out every couple of hours to test my blood sugar."

If it's easy, kids are more likely to do it. Controlling glucose levels now lowers Robby's chance of complications down the road.

Breath analysis has already shown promise in diagnosing ulcers and cystic fibrosis. Dr. Galassetti says that eventually, we may be able to monitor insulin and cholesterol with a breath test.