Researchers to develop breathalyzer-type low blood sugar warning device for diabetes

  • Sept. 22, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

INDIANAPOLIS -- A multidisciplinary team of researchers at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis has been awarded a $738,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop a breathalyzer-type device to detect the onset of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar episodes, in people with diabetes.

“Existing technology tracks current blood sugar levels, but it doesn’t alert the patient to an upcoming hypoglycemic episode,” said principal investigator Kody Varahramyan, senior aide to the chancellor and professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Hypoglycemia can be dangerous if it remains undetected. Children and the elderly with Type 1 diabetes are especially prone to sudden drops in blood sugar.

The three-year grant will fund research to:

  • Identify the signature odorants that are produced in human breath by specific volatile organic compounds created by the metabolic processes that lead to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.
  • Develop a nanosensor array to detect those odorants.
  • Incorporate the nanosensor array into a portable smart device that transmits health information to the diabetic, caregivers and family members.

“Researchers will identify the signature odorants, which are unknown to the medical community, using breath samples collected from patients,” said Mangilal Agarwal, a co-principal investigator. Agarwal directs the Integrated Nanosystems Development Institute and is associate director of research development in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research.

The odorants will be verified with diabetes alert dogs that recognize the onset of hypoglycemia from those odorants. Patients would blow into the small device, whose sensor system would then communicate the patient’s hypoglycemic status, along with tracking information that provides a historical summary.

The research is expected to improve health-monitoring options for people with diabetes, decrease health care costs and improve lifestyles for diabetics.

The grant is part of an effort by the federal government to accelerate the development and use of innovative approaches that would support the transformation of health care from reactive and hospital-centered to preventive, proactive, evidence-based and person-centered, focused on well-being rather than disease.

The project will provide interdisciplinary research experiences to graduate and undergraduate students. In addition, this project will support participation of underrepresented groups and educational outreach programs for K-12 students and teachers across Indiana and the U.S.

“This research is particularly well-suited to an institution like IUPUI, with its focus on health and life sciences, and its ability to marshal experts from across disciplines, including engineering, science, medicine and informatics and computing,” Agarwal said.

Other investigators are Anthony Faiola, an associate professor in the School of Informatics and Computing; Peter Roach, director of the Center for Diabetes Research, School of Medicine; Sudhir Shrestha, an assistant research professor in the School of Engineering and Technology; Amanda Siegel, postdoctoral research associate in the School of Science; Kieren Mather, professor of Medicine, School of Medicine and Center for Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases; and Dana Hardin, a pediatric endocrinologist at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent.

Researchers in the Integrated Nanosystems Development Institute  Lab are developing nanosensors to Identify the signature breath odorants that are produced in human breath by specific volatile organic compounds that are created by the metabolic processes that lead to hypoglycemia.

Researchers in the Integrated Nanosystems Development Institute Lab are developing nanosensors to Identify the signature breath odorants that are produced in human breath by specific volatile organic compounds that are created by the metabolic processes that lead to hypoglycemia.

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Richard Schneider