The word breathalyzer tends to not have a positive connotation for most college students. But an upcoming similar product, invented by a college freshman, could help those with diabetes.
After three years of research, Elizabeth Ross, a student at Rhodes College in Memphis, has developed technology that can read the level of glucose in a person’s breath, turning the finger pricks most diabetics use to measure their blood-sugar level into a puff.
Ross initially started working on the device through a program in high school that paired her with Winston V. Schoenfeld, an associate professor of optics at the University of Central Florida. As Ross’s mentor for two years, Schoenfeld worked with Ross to develop the idea and ensure she had the needed materials to make her vision a reality. But it was Ross who really took the initiative, Schoenfeld said.
“She is rather independent,” Schoenfeld said. “I was pretty pleased with how far she took the project.”
It was Schoenfeld who gave Ross in the idea of measuring different things with the breath and met with her throughout the process. But it was Ross who went above and beyond what the program called for, which was the doing extra work for the project.
“She was very interested in diabetes,” Schoenfeld said. “You could tell she was very driven because she had a increased interest – it hit home a little bit.”
Ross’s mother has been a diabetic for 20 years and partially inspired her daughter’s research, which included pouring through academic journals, asking questions and working in the lab for several hours a day three days a week. The final result was a procedure for measuring glucose level in the breath – a method that has proved to be as accurate as the current method of testing – a blood test requiring a prick on the finger or arm.
Although a device has yet to be patented, Ross is working to update the future device’s design and create different models.
“My mother was able to come in and test her glucose,” Ross said. “The fact that I have concrete results shows that the future of research is promising.”
The potential solution comes at an opportune time. USA Today recently reported that that International Diabetes Federation predicts that one in 10 adults will have diabetes by 2030. Ross’s mother is one of 25.8 million people in the U.S. with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Also in the group is Mitch Staley, a student a Brigham Young University who has been living with diabetes for the past four years. Staley said the daily finger pricks have proved to be a hassle.
“After a while you get calluses – you wouldn’t image how big – on the end of your finger,” Staley said. “It gets more painful as time progresses.”
In addition to the pain, there is the issue of having to clean the blood, not always convenient if there is no bathroom around, Staley said, and things such as new needles and testing strips also can becomes expensive. Total direct medical cots for diabetes in the U.S. is about $116 billion according to the American Diabetes Association.
“[The breathalyzer] is a technology I think would be welcomed,” Staley said.
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