New device could replace need for diabetes pin prick testing

June 11, 2019
Trials of the new device set to start soon
Researchers from the University of Sydney, AusMed Global and the Australian Trade and Investment Commission recently unveiled a breath ketone analyser at the Hong Kong International Medical and Healthcare Fair.

Monitoring blood levels with the prick of a finger could be replaced with just a breath in a matter of years, thanks to a ketone monitoring device that will soon be taken from the lab to the clinic for trials.

Working collaboratively with AusMed Global and the Australian Trade and Investment Commission, a team of researchers from the University of Sydney recently unveiled the breath ketone analyser at the Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s International Medical and Healthcare Fair.

Following the fair, industrial partner AusMed Global announced it would be officially moving its operations to Hong Kong Science Park, a precinct of high-technology enterprises that will fast-track the device’s development.

The device is being developed to allow people living with type 1 diabetes to better manage and detect incidences of ketoacidosis, a life-threatening medical emergency that occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin, causing the liver to produce high levels of ketones that damage the surrounding organs.

Leading a multidisciplinary group of health and engineering experts from the University of Sydney, Faculty of Engineering researcher Professor Xiaoke Yi believes the device will lead to a more accurate detection of ketoacidosis, in turn leading to a more effective management of the disease.

“The breath ketone analyser will be a less invasive and far more accurate way for people with diabetes to monitor their health, by measuring blood ketone levels in the breath,” said Professor Xiaoke Yi from the School of Electrical and Information Engineering.

“The process will be as simple as roadside breath testing – just by measuring the concentration of acetone in a patient’s breath, blood ketone levels can be calculated.

“The device has been calibrated to a high sensitivity and is based on an innovative sensing technique that is not affected by alcohol or other gasses,” she explained.

Kellion Professor in Endocrinology and Stan Clark Chair in Diabetes at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, Professor Stephen Twigg, said the Hong Kong presentation highlighted the potential value of breath ketone monitoring and that it can become the most common method of monitoring for ketones.

“Monitoring for ketones is important in people with diabetes when they are sick and at risk of developing diabetic ketoacidosis, the latter of which requires emergency treatment and can be life threatening,” he said.

“Looking at current testing methods – blood testing is invasive and relatively expensive. Getting real time results from urine testing can be problematic. In contrast, this new device uses a person’s breath to measure ketone levels and is not invasive and promises to be clinically accurate and less financially burdensome.

“Breath ketone monitoring potentially offers a safe, reliable and on-demand way of monitoring ketones in the body using portable technology. In collaboration with AusMed Global, the interdisciplinary University of Sydney team is planning on making this exciting technology an affordable reality for people with diabetes.”

The device will also have the potential to monitor and assist several other diseases such as liver disease, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Attending the International Medical and Healthcare Fair alongside the University team and AusMed Global, New South Wales Trade and Investment Commissioner for South China and Hong Kong, Murray Davis said this project represents a new model for the innovation sector.

“It shows how Australian innovators can access Hong Kong capital and management expertise, as well as global manufacturing supply chains to bring new products to market and contribute to growth of the New South Wales knowledge economy,” he said.

Christine Yip, CEO of AusMed Global believes the three-tiered collaboration and the recent Hong Kong integration will fast-track the device’s commercial availability.

“AusMed Global is excited to partner with the University of Sydney in bringing this genuine, non-invasive ketone measurement innovation from the laboratory to the market,” she said.

“We look forward to providing a pain free ketone monitoring experience to those suffering from debilitating diseases and life limiting illness in the near future.”


Funding Disclosure: The University of Sydney has received funding from AusMed Global Ltd to commercialise the ketone breath analyser. The device is the result of a multidisciplinary research project from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering, the University of Sydney Nano Institute and the Charles Perkins Centre.


Diabetes in Australia

According to Diabetes Australia, there are over 1.7 million Australians living with diabetes, with approximately 10 percent living with type 1 of the disease.

Diabetic ketoacidosis is a life-threatening condition that results in over seven-thousand[1] hospitalisations each year in Australia. In 2014, the estimated cost of diabetic ketoacidosis in NSW was $8.7million.

[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.