ETSU research looking for new way to identify low blood sugar

Brandon Paykamian • May 13, 2018 at 10:21 PM

People with Type 1 diabetes usually test for hypoglycemia using a glucose monitor or “finger prick,” but an East Tennessee State University pilot research study is looking into another possible sign of low blood sugar — chemical changes in people’s breath.

Dr. Evan Los, an assistant professor in the ETSU Quillen College of Medicine Department of Pediatrics and practicing physician with Ballad Health, was recently awarded a $10,000 grant by the ETSU Research Development Committee to take a closer look at biochemical signatures of low blood sugar detected in a person’s breath.

After his previous research exploring the ability of service dogs to detect and alert their owners of low blood sugar, Los found mixed results.

Los is now looking at an array of chemical compounds, such as isoprene, which has been shown to drastically increase — sometimes up to 400 percent — in patients with low blood sugar.

“Isoprene goes up when blood sugar goes down, but what happens with the other compounds? Nobody really knows for sure,” Los said. 

To find out more about this method of detecting low blood sugar, Los is recruiting people of various ages with Type 1 diabetes to provide breath samples when they experience hypoglycemia and again when their sugar levels return to normal.

The samples will then be sent to a lab for analysis. Dr. Bill Stone, professor and director of pediatric research, will help coordinate the lab analysis portion of the study.

“We don’t really know what we’re going to find, and we’re looking at all the potential things in people’s breath that can change,” Los said. “But when you don’t know what you’re looking for, you may find some things and not know what it means.”

Los said this clinical study, which is the first of its kind in the Department of Pediatrics, could be considered a first step in learning how to develop non-invasive devices to measure blood sugar.

“This research has implications down the road,” Los said. “Sometimes, children may not be able to tell the difference between being nervous and having low blood sugar, and it’s the same for people who have had diabetes for a while and older patients. They can’t feel it as much. That’s why it would be beneficial to have a non-invasive way to detect blood sugar.”

“This research may generate more questions than answers, but if this goes well and we find something interesting, we’ll follow up,” he added. “A possible next step would be to see whether the breath compounds we identify are what the service dogs pick up on when they alert their owners.”

Los said researchers are still looking for more participants ages 5-80 to submit samples to the lab. For more information about the study and how to participate, call 423-431-4946. 

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