Researchers Testing Revolutionary Breathalyzer to Detect COVID-19

The device is being described as "potentially transformative."
Fabienne Lang

One of the current methods of testing for COVID-19 is by using long swabs gently pushed high up into the nasal cavity. As effective as this may be, it's also been described as being rather unpleasant. 

Researchers at Ohio State University in the U.S. have been working on a different solution for testing: a breathalyzer. 

It's much more comfortable, faster, and more cost-effective. 


Simple exhaled breath

The new test will be as simple as breathing out. Perena Gouma, primary investigator of the research and her team say that their breathalyzer would be used as an alternative for the current testing kits. These can sometimes be costly, take a while to get results back, and require trained personnel to take the sample as well as analyze the results. 

Researchers Testing Revolutionary Breathalyzer to Detect COVID-19
The breathalyzer device, Source: Ohio State University

Gouma explained that this is still early-stage work, "Breath analysis is not really a technique that is used widely in the medical field yet, so it is considered early-stage work."

She continued by explaining their device, "[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."

By using the breathalyzer, earlier detection of the virus could be caught, as well as monitoring its severity throughout an illness.

The hand-held device gives results within 15 seconds, is inexpensive, and can be used by anyone. "We are working on making these hand-held monitors that will be widely distributed and they’re very inexpensive," said Gouma. "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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One big advantage that Gouma's team at Ohio State University has benefitted from is working in collaboration with the College of Veterinary Medicine, the College of Medicine and the Wexner Medical Center.

"That’s one of the advantages of Ohio State. You don’t find many institutions that have the No. 1 vet med school in the world and also a world-class medical school," explained Gouma. "It’s also serendipity because COVID-19 is a zoonosis, a disease that comes from animals, and the vet med school had years of experience studying coronaviruses and the flu in animals."

The device is still being worked on and if it sees the light of day, it'll potentially prove extremely useful for travelers before they hop onto a flight, and for students and teachers before they return to school, among many other people around the world wishing to move around more freely safely. 

There are other methods being trialed out for COVID-19 testing, such as this sweet dog-sniffer one.

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