A Breath test may replace a Finger prick test

It is early days and we will not get too excited, but this is a great story.

There is research underway in Ireland by Susan O’Neill, a dog trainer. Susan is looking for more volunteers who have Type 1 diabetes to supply a breath sample to her when their blood glucose levels are low. She would like adult and children’s breaths. Ideally, the volunteers should live in Dublin/Kildare. See end of story for contact details

A major challenge for people with Type 1 Diabetes is hypoglycaemia. This is where blood glucose levels drop causing shakiness, disorientation and tiredness but also creating a risk of seizures and falling unconscious. Night time is especially worrying as it may occur while sleeping. Type 1 diabetes is where there is no protective mechanism to maintain blood glucose levels.

There is research, underway in Cambridge, UK to find a better solution such as a breath test to replace the finger prick test. The study came about because people were reporting stories of their pet dogs alerting them when they came close to having a hypoglycaemic event. A dog’s sense of smell is very strong and these stories suggested to scientists that there may be a compound produced by the human body, detectable by a dog, when blood glucose levels fall below a certain point. (<4mmol/l)

A small study involving just 8 females, (46 years+, Type 1 diabetes for  23 years+, non-smoking ) produced an early interesting finding. When humans breathe out, we exhale a number of organic volatile compounds. One compound called Isoprene, rose significantly at hypoglycaemia. No other known compound altered in the same way. Isoprene is not a new discovery, it is one of the most common volatile compounds exhaled in human breath.

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Further research will try to identify why Isoprene rises. Early thoughts are that cholesterol may be involved or as blood glucose levels fall, the heart rate increases which increases blood flow and the exhalation of compounds.


If you would like to get involved, contact Susan on 086 337 1326 and she will give you all the details you need to know and the equipment needed to store the breath.