This flexible sensor may allow diabetics to monitor their blood sugar with a simple puff into a handheld device. (Credit: San Diego State)

A simple puff into a handheld device may one day be all it takes to monitor their blood sugar using a new technology. The device will not only be painless, but reusable — no finger pricks or expensive test strips. The sensor device will work like a breathalyzer, but rather than measuring alcohol, the sensor measures acetone to determine an individual’s blood glucose level.

To make the biosensor, the researchers used a technique called molecular imprinting to deposit a polymer layer onto graphene. The 3D polymer has small cavities that are the same shape and size as acetone molecules. It works like a filter, allowing only acetone to get through and bind to the graphene.

When the acetone molecules attach to the graphene, it changes the material’s electrical properties. The sensor detects acetone levels ranging from 0.9 to 10 ppm. The acetone concentrations in the breath of a nondiabetic range from 0.3 to 0.9 parts per million; however,

in diabetics, those levels are higher. Additional electronic components then convert the measurement to milligrams per deciliter, the standard blood glucometer reading.

They envision putting the breath sensor into a smartphone along with an app that enables users to effectively monitor and manage their blood glucose levels.