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A painless breath test could replace the daily finger prick check for diabetics after scientists found a chemical which rises when blood sugar is too low. Researchers have known for some time that dogs can be trained to notice when their owners are about to suffer an hypoglycaemic attack because of lack of glucose. But now Cambridge has managed to isolate the chemical which they are actually sniffing. Called isoprene, the discovery means they could screen for it in a breath test meaning the 400,000 people in Britain living with Type 1 diabetes would not need to draw blood daily.

“Isoprene is one of the commonest natural chemicals that we find in human breath, but we know surprisingly little about where it comes from,” says Dr Mark Evans, Honorary Consultant Physician at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, University of Cambridge. “We suspect it’s a by-product of the production of cholesterol, but it isn’t clear why levels of the chemical rise when patients get very low blood sugar. “Humans aren’t sensitive to the presence of isoprene, but dogs with their incredible sense of smell, find it easy to identify and can be trained to alert their owners about dangerously low blood sugar levels.”

Hypoglycaemia – low blood sugar – can cause problems such as shakiness, disorientation and fatigue; if the patient does not receive a sugar boost in time, it can cause seizures and lead to unconsciousness. In some people with diabetes, these episodes can occur suddenly with little warning. To find out what chemical the dogs were smelling, researchers lowered blood sugar levels under controlled conditions in eight women, then tested the presence of molecules in the blood. The researchers found that levels of the chemical isoprene rose significantly at hypoglycaemia – in some cases almost doubling, which would present a disturbing change for a pet with sensitive smell receptors.

Claire Pesterfield, a paediatric diabetes specialist nurse at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge has a golden Labrador dog that has been trained by the charity Medical Detection Dogs to detect when her blood sugar levels are falling to potentially dangerous levels. “Low blood sugar is an everyday threat to me and if it falls too low – which it can do quickly – it can be very dangerous,” she said. “Magic is incredible. If he smells a hypo coming, he’ll jump up and put his paws on my shoulders to let me know.”

The research was published in the journal Diabetes Care.

For Further Information
More on the diabetes market in Europe can be found in a report suite published by iData Research entitled the European Markets for Diabetes Monitoring, Treatment and Drug Delivery. The suite covers reports on the following markets: Traditional Blood Glucose Monitoring, Blood Glucose Meters, Blood Glucose Test Strips, Lancet and Lancing Devices, Continuous Glucose Monitoring, Insulin, Insulin Pens, Insulin Syringes, Insulin Pumps, and Artificial Pancreas.

The iData report series on diabetes devices covers the United States and 15 countries in Europe. Reports provide a comprehensive analysis including units sold, procedure numbers, market value, forecasts, as well as detailed competitive market shares and analysis of major players’ success strategies in each market and segment. To find out more about diabetes device market data or procedure data, register online or email us at [email protected] for a European Markets for Diabetes Monitoring, Treatment and Drug Delivery brochure and synopsis.

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