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Diabetes could soon be detected using simple breath test

A breath test developed by Oxford University researchers could spot the early signs of Type 1 diabetes in children long before they start to show symptoms.

A team of scientists at the world-famous university have developed a hand-held device which is able to quickly identify the autoimmune disease. If applied to routine medical care, this could save many lives.

Type 1 diabetes is thought to be genetic, and means that the body is unable to produce its own insulin, stopping the proper bodily process of regulating blood sugar. Effecting 400,000 people in the UK, one in four cases is picked up once the patient becomes seriously ill following their blood sugar levels becoming high.

Researchers hope that their new device will help spot the condition a lot earlier than it is currently being diagnoses, which in turn should reduce the numbers of children which fall into a state known as diabetic ketoacidosis.

Karen Addington is the UK chief executive of JDRF, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation – an organisation which raises funds for research into Type 1 diabetes. She welcomed the breakthrough, stating: “Early diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes is crucial if people are to avoid being hospitalised with diabetic ketoacidosis. This is life-threatening and extremely traumatic for the individual’s wider family.”

She added, “Any new knowledge from research that could help doctors to diagnose people more swiftly is to be very warmly welcomed. I hear far too many stories from people who were turned away by their doctors after their first visit.”

The team found that children withType 1 diabetes also produce a chemical which makes their breath smell of pear drops. The chemical, ketone, develops when children have low levels of insulin and occurs when a lack of insulin in the body means that it cannot use sugar correctly for energy and starts to break down fat.

Although the breath test is unable to pick up the scent on its own, the aim of the research was to discover the chemical compound which produces the aroma and develop a test which meant the compound could be detected on a simple breath test device – giving healthcare professionals, children and their families an accurate and early indication of any future problems.

The research team at Oxford University hope their discovery will be used in regular check-ups should a child display early symptoms of diabetes, including tiredness, thirst and lack of energy.

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