AUG 19, 2020 8:02 AM PDT

What about a COVID-19 breathalyzer test?

New research from a collaboration of researchers share the development of a prototype breathalyzer for detecting COVID-19. Such a device could offer a non-invasive alternative to nasopharyngeal swabs (the current testing method) for diagnosing SARS-CoV-2. The research is published in the American Cancer Society’s journal Nano.

Current testing methods for COVID-19 leave much to be desired. Aside from its invasive nature, the most accurate testing method available as of now requires reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), a procedure that takes too much time and human-power to conduct in our current state of crisis. That’s why it can take multiple takes (or longer!) to get your test results back, during which time you have potentially already transmitted the virus to others.

The prototype breathalyzer doesn’t rely on RT-PCR. Instead, it detects volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the virus that can be exhaled in the breath. The device is made of an array of gold nanoparticles connected to molecules that are sensitive to VOCs, meaning that when VOCs come in contact with the molecules on a nanoparticle, the electrical resistance changes.

Researchers Hossam Haick, Hu Liu, and Yueyin Pan then trained the device using machine learning in order to make it detect the VOCs emitted by the coronavirus. To do so, they used electrical resistance signal data obtained from the breath of 49 confirmed COVID-19 patients, 58 healthy controls, and 33 non-COVID lung infection patients in Wuhan, China.

Following this training, the researchers showed that the device tested 76% accuracy in distinguishing COVID-19 cases from controls. It also showed a 95% accuracy in discerning between COVID-19 cases from lung infections and 88% accuracy between sick and recovered COVID-19 patients. Given the accuracy rates of some of our current testing methods, those numbers look pretty good!

Photo: Pixabay

The researchers say that they will need to validate the prototype on a larger population of participants but that the device could be helpful in the meantime for screening large populations to determine which individuals need further testing.

“That would lead to a reduction in the number of unneeded confirmatory tests and lower the burden on the hospitals while allowing individuals a screening solution that can be performed in PoC facilities,” they write. “The proposed method can be considered as a platform that could be applied for any other disease infection with proper modifications to the artificial intelligence and would, therefore, be available to serve as a diagnostic tool in case of a new disease outbreak.”

Sources: Nano, Eureka Alert

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
OCT 28, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Mimicking Cells With a Microfluidic Chip
OCT 28, 2020
Mimicking Cells With a Microfluidic Chip
Cell culture models are one way for scientists to learn more about biology. But cells grow in large cultures that are of ...
OCT 30, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Designing tensional homeostasis in human skin equivalents
OCT 30, 2020
Designing tensional homeostasis in human skin equivalents
A new development in the production of artificial skins comes from scientists at the RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamic ...
NOV 11, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Bioconductive ink uses the body's own electrical signals to direct how and where neurons grow
NOV 11, 2020
Bioconductive ink uses the body's own electrical signals to direct how and where neurons grow
The development of a new bioconductive ink from researchers in Australia, India, and Bangladesh is reported in the journ ...
NOV 14, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
STEVE, what is it?
NOV 14, 2020
STEVE, what is it?
STEVE is in the sky! STEVE, as is Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement, the purple and green streaks that have b ...
JAN 03, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Cracking the structural code of nacre
JAN 03, 2021
Cracking the structural code of nacre
Researchers have finally figured out how nacre – also known as mother of pearl – forms its perfect structure ...
JAN 17, 2021
Space & Astronomy
New Way to Extract Energy from Black Holes
JAN 17, 2021
New Way to Extract Energy from Black Holes
In his theory of general relativity, Einstein predicted that black holes harbor an enormous amount of energy. And now, r ...
Loading Comments...