Being able to tell, in a matter of seconds, whether someone is infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 would certainly help put a halt to the ongoing pandemic. Existing tests typically involve a deep nasal swab to obtain enough fluid sample, which has to be transferred to a laboratory machine for processing, with the results usually available many hours or even days after. There are five minute tests on the market, but those still require an expensive machine at each testing site.
Now, researchers at Ohio State University have developed and are testing a breathalyzer that can detect metabolites related to a COVID-19 infection within fifteen seconds. The technology may allow for mass screenings of travelers at airports and those attending large public events, as well as any facility that wants to help prevent infections.
“Breath analysis is not really a technique that is used widely in the medical field yet, so it is considered early-stage work,” said Perena Gouma, the lead developer of the new device, in an Ohio State announcement. “[We] have a sensor device that detects nitric oxide and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in breath and can be used to tell you about the onset of an infectious disease.”
Along with nitric oxide, two other metabolites are screened by the new breathalyzer that are related to COVID-19. Because the device indicates the metabolite concentrations, it may also help with disease monitoring to assess progression.
We covered the original breathalyzer that Gouma’s team built back in 2017, when the goal was to help detect the onset of influenza before symptoms are evident. The new device relies on new nanomaterials that can trap and measure the relevant gases being analyzed.
Apparently the technology is cheap to manufacture and just about anyone can perform a test using the breathalyzer. Results are displayed on the device within fifteen seconds and don’t require any interpretation.
“We are working on making these hand-held monitors that will be widely distributed and they’re very inexpensive,” Gouma added. “The technology evolved from the sensors used for monitoring gases in an automotive exhaust – that’s how we started on breath analysis 20 years ago.”
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