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Breathalyzer targets 'stunningly low' compliance for glucose checks

Breathalyzer targets 'stunningly low' compliance for glucose checks

For decades, researchers have sought to find noninvasive ways for people with diabetes to test their blood glucose levels without the dreaded finger stick. Western New England University professors Dr. Ronny Priefer and Dr. Michael Rust have developed a handheld breathalyzer that detects acetone levels in a user's breath that correlate with blood glucose levels. Dr. Priefer spoke with HME News recently about the quest for pain-free glucose checks.

HME News: How does the breathalyzer work?

Dr. Ronny Priefer: It's been known for a good century that diabetics have sweet-swelling breath, which was determined to be a chemical called acetone. (The question) has been, “How do you wean out parts per million of acetone  (to measure) when you are breathing out 100% humidity?” So, we used the moisture in our breath to activate our sensor slide and that allows it to interact with acetone in the breath.

HME: How accurate is the breathalyzer?

Priefer: We expect it to be on par if not better than current blood glucose monitors. When we did our study, we compared it to the Accu-check—that is our gold standard at this point.

HME: This could improve compliance rates for testing. Currently, about 66% of patients avoid regularly testing.

Priefer: The finger prick has a stunningly low compliance rate and one reason is the pain association. As a guinea pig, I pricked my fingers 25 times one day and I'm not volunteering to do it again. But because of the low level of compliance, a lot of diabetics are guessing, which can cause complications, which in turn is a $250 billion a year problem in the U.S.

HME: Do you think insurers will pay for this technology?

Priefer: Almost certainly. Looking at the model that currently exists within the market, I would assume that the insurance companies want their patients to have improved outcomes. It's a financial burden for them.

HME: Will we see more technology advances for diabetes?

Priefer: The limitation has always been on the nanotechnology side. How do you take something that's six feet long and fit it into something the size of a book? As we get better at miniaturizing, the advances are going to come more and more quickly.


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