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Electronic Design

Breathalyzer Uncovers Diabetes

About 17 million Americans have diabetes, but nearly 6 million of them don't know it. Testing for it can be tricky, too. Urine sugar tests and blood tests after fasting are low in sensitivity and may be inaccurate. The glucose tolerance test can be painful and troublesome. And, blood hemoglobin and fructosamine tests have proved unreliable in detecting light diabetes. Fortunately, a new sensor may solve all of these problems.

Chuji Wang and M. John Plodinec of Mississippi State University came up with a fast, noninvasive analyzer that uses cavity ring-down spectroscopy (CRDS) to detect concentration levels of acetone in a person's breath, indicating whether or not that person has diabetes. CRDS attunes light rays to a given substance and measures the time required for the light to fade or "ring down," indicating the level of contamination. The technology was developed by Princeton University and commercialized by Tiger Optics to detect a range of substances.

"You blow your breath into the instrument one time and you receive a number indicating your status, whether you are diabetes-free or in the early or severe stages of the disease," says Wang, an assistant research professor at the university's Diagnostic Instrumentation and Analysis Laboratory. Plodinec is the lab's director.

Currently, the researchers are looking to partner with medical experts for human testing as well as commercialization. They expect its cost will fall between $5000 and $15,000 per unit. For more details, go to

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