Young scientist's breathalyser gives privacy to diabetes patients

Valentine Saasa was part of the team that invented the groundbreaking breathalyser for diabetic patients to monitor their condition.
Valentine Saasa was part of the team that invented the groundbreaking breathalyser for diabetic patients to monitor their condition.
Image: Supplied

Valentine Saasa grew up witnessing her diabetic father prick himself daily to monitor his blood glucose levels.

This inspired the 27-year-old scientist - and her team -  to use her skills to invent a groundbreaking breathalyser for diabetic patients to monitor their condition.

“It is very close to my heart because the traditional method is very invasive. I’ve seen children crying because they do not understand why they have to be pricked,” she said.

The Bo Tlokwa-born University of Pretoria student is currently a researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) while she completes her PhD in Science.  

She said the breathalyser idea was born in 2014 when she was completing her Master’s degree in science at the University of Johannesburg.  

She eventually teamed up with four other scientists to create a prototype. 

“We have spent the past five years creating a second prototype. Right now we are waiting for it to be licensed,” said Saasa.

The device uses nanotechnology which is the study of extremely small materials to detect the levels of glucose in the body.

A patient will blow into the device to receive their blood glucose results instead of using needles to draw blood.

Saasa said the current method for managing diabetes is not only invasive but expensive.

“You need to spend a lot of money on managing your disease. A patient has to buy about two packs of glucose-testing strips a month and not everyone has the money.”

The young scientist said that patients testing three or more times a day can sometimes damage their testing finger, adding that her father's finger print was hard to read when he went to renew his license because of decades of needle use.

Saasa, who is expected to graduate in 2019, said she was the youngest in the team and the only woman.

“There is no balance yet in the science field but black women are making an effort to enter the field.”

She added that she plans to continue using her NGO - Capricorn Education Resource Centre in Limpopo - to ensure rural children’s interest in science, maths and technology careers.

Saasa will be one of four women in science showcasing their celebrated work at the CSIR on Wednesday.

CSIR media relations manager David Mandaha said female researchers like Saasa are at the forefront of developing technologies to improve the lives of South Africans.

“The CSIR has a mandate to use science and technology to improve our people and to ensure that the country is more competitive.

Technology such as this will help improve the country's state of health care,” said Mandaha.

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