Diagnosing the Covid-19 through the breath

Breathonix, a spin-off from the National University of Singapore (NUS), is developing a device that can diagnose the virus in less than a minute.

The device, which resembles a large spirometer, is shaped like a tube and examines the patient’s breath to detect chemical changes in breathing.

Each exhalation contains invisible particles known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are produced by various biochemical reactions in human cells.

Volatile organic compounds make it possible to distinguish a healthy person from a sick person. Each disease has its own “imprint” formed by specific markers. Currently, breath tests are already available to diagnose diseases such as asthma and Helicobacter pylori infections – a gastric disease.

The Breathonix device works first by blowing a person into a disposable mouthpiece connected to a high-precision breath sampler.

The single-use mouthpiece that the system uses is equipped with a one-way valve and a saliva trap, which prevents inhalation and any saliva entering the machine.

The exhaled breath is collected and fed into an innovative mass spectrometer for measurement. Automatic learning software analyses the VOC profile and generates the result in less than a minute.

In a clinical trial at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) in Singapore involved 180 patients, including 48 Covid-19 positive and 132 Covid-19 negative.

The device has so far achieved an accuracy rate of over 90% with sensitivity (i.e. correctly identify those with the disease) of 93% and specificity (i.e. correctly identify those without the disease) of 95%.

Researchers hope to recruit up to 600 patients in the coming months to validate the technology.

The Breathonix test is easy to administer, requires no specially trained staff and a laboratory as is required for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. Results are generated in real time, making it an interesting solution for mass screening, especially in crowded areas such as airports and dormitories.

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