Research team invents breath test to detect diabetes

diabetes breathalyzer

NDSU graduate students prepare for their careers by working with top researchers and contributing their ideas and expertise to important projects. One research team, for example, is perfecting a device that could soon become part of everyday life.

The device is a breath analyzer designed to detect diabetes. NDSU researcher Danling Wang started working on it as a Ph.D. student at the University of Washington. She had gestational diabetes and hated the constant needle pokes required for testing her blood sugar. She knew there had to be a better way.

At the time, she was researching sensors, with a focus on pollution monitoring. Her personal experience made her deeply interested in researching applications that would improve life for diabetics.

She started working on the device that uses a sensor to detect a acetone, a volatile organic compound in human breath. Acetone levels are elevated in people who are diabetic. The device doesn’t replace blood testing to diagnose diabetes, but it is a less invasive way to determine if preventive measures or further testing is needed. Wang also intends to integrate the technology into a smartphone app, giving diabetics a painless, inexpensive way to monitor blood sugar.

She brought the project to NDSU two years ago when she joined the electrical and computer engineering department as an assistant professor. She launched a nanoelectronic sensor and device lab and formed a team to push the research into a marketable device.

Members of team include graduate students Md. Razuan Hossain and Mike Johnson. Wang made Hossain and Johnson each responsible for a portion of the project that fits their experience, strengths and future plans. “I adjust the training process to prepare students for their career goals,” she says.

Hossain is a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering. He is from Bangladesh and wanted to pursue a graduate degree in the United States because of strong programs related to device manufacturing. His career goal is to develop biomedical products for industry. He has circuit design experience, so his role on the research team is to make the device more compact.

Johnson, who is from Savage, Minnesota, is a doctoral student in the materials and nanotechnology program. He chose NDSU because it allowed him to stay in the region where he grew up and gave him the opportunity to produce cutting edge work. He is a chemist who also plans to work in industry. His job is to make material used in the device and to optimize it to make the sensors work better.

Wang is supervisor, teacher and mentor to Hossain and Johnson. She sets goals and deadlines for their research. She mentors them on writing for academic publication and presenting at conferences. And she is part of their support system as they balance their responsibilities and prepare to direct their own research someday.

Johnson likes the open communication and in-person meetings with Wang. “She understands what my specific goals are, and she can let me know what her expectations are and how I can further myself.”

The team continues to perfect the device and expects it to be ready for the market in the near future.

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diabetes breathalyzer research