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Can volatile compounds in exhaled breath be used to monitor control in diabetes mellitus?

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 13:46 authored by David Smith, Patrik Španel, Anthony A Fryer, Fahmy Hanna, Gordon FernsGordon Ferns
Although it has been known for centuries that there are compounds in exhaled breath that are altered in disease, it is only in the last few decades that it has been possible to measure them with sufficient accuracy and precision to make them clinically useful. The clinical utility of breath analysis has also been limited by the practical difficulties of collecting representative breath samples, free from contaminants. More recent methods of breath analysis have allowed real-time analysis of breath, eliminating the need for sample collection, and therefore potentially allowing the rapid feedback of results to patient and clinician. One possible future application of breath analysis may be the monitoring of metabolic control in patients with diabetes mellitus. This perspective article provides an overview of the studies of breath analysis in diabetes, focusing on the breath metabolites; acetone, isoprene and also methyl nitrate that have previously been reported to be altered in diabetes, highlighting the factors that may potentially confound their interpretation. Specific attention is given to selected ion flow tube mass spectrometry (SIFT-MS) and proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry (PTR-MS), because they are techniques that have been developed specifically for the absolute quantification of breath metabolites in real time, although reference is made to some of the alternative techniques, including sensors and optical devices. Whilst breath analysis, using SIFT-MS, PTR-MS and other sensitive techniques, can potentially be used for the non-invasive monitoring of metabolic conditions that may include diabetes mellitus, further work is required in terms of the clinical and analytical validation. Furthermore, it is unclear at present what breath metabolites should be monitored and what factors may confound their interpretation. Although a non-invasive method of monitoring glycaemic control is clearly desirable, it will be important to demonstrate its analytical comparability with the well-established and validated methods for blood glucose measurement


Publication status

  • Published


Journal of Breath Research







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Department affiliated with

  • Division of Medical Education Publications

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Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

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