Scientists have shown a great interest in and working towards creating portable devices that can be used effortlessly to test a person for disease by a whiff of breath. The Spiro Nose, a product of the Dutch Company Breathomix, is one of the COVID-19 tests under development. There are many other factors to consider when developing a product like this; for example, a diet can affect the chemicals someone exhales, smoking and alcohol consumption potentially complicate the disease detection. To overcome these hurdles scientists, believe improvised sensor technology and machine learning combined research will result in disease-detecting breathalyzers.
COVID Test – Made Easy With A Breath Analyzer
Christiana Davis, an engineer at the University of California, says, “I have been working in the area of breath research for almost 20 years now; during this period, we have seen it progress from a nascent stage to being something that is close to getting deployed”
Knowing our breath
Human breath is not simple! Whenever we exhale, we release a variety of gases known as volatile organic compounds, by-products of respiration, digestion, metabolism, and other physiological processes. For instance, people with diabetes will have breath that smells fruity and sweet because of ketosis. Ketosis is when the body begins to burn fat instead of glucose for energy.
This breath analyzing technique is an old technique, says Doctor Davis. “Ancient Greek and Chinese references physician’s using smell as a way to guide for clinical practice” Now, along with Machine learning ability, algorithms can identify patterns in breath samples with certain diseases. These unique “breath prints” are used in the diagnosis of lung cancer, liver disease, Asthma, and Tuberculosis.
Smell test – How to Pass?
Prerana Gouma, a materials scientist at Ohio State, has applied FDA authorization for her Covid-19 breathalyzer. Various travel authorities, theatres, and colleges have been approaching her to get a hands-on device.
Though there is a lot of excitement and positive response for the breath test of COVID, a lot of basic scientific questions remain unanswered. If there is a reference range, it is easy to deduce from that. For instance, the Normal range of hemoglobin and the white blood cell count is identified and standard set. Oliver Gould, an analytical chemist at the University of West of England, says this type of reference range doesn’t exist for breath analysis.
Several studies have discovered unique chemical patterns in the breath of COVID-19 affected patients. In a study, SpiroNose has believed to correctly identify at least 98% of people who were infected by the virus. But also, it was discovered later SpiroNose had a high rate of false positives as well! Because of this fault, the results of the test were coming back negative or inconclusive.
Researchers at Children’s hospital in Philadelphia have identified the breath print of covid in children known as Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MISC). Doctor Davis and her colleagues analyze exhaled breath condensate, a concentrated solution of tiny droplets of fluid present in breath. They are also called aerosols. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, for instance, are developing a biosensor that is coated in tiny antibody fragments, or Nanobodies, that bind to SARS-CoV-2. If someone is exhaling viral particles, they should attach to the Nanobodies, activating the sensor.
Future of breath tests
Researchers expressed that they do not expect breath analyzing tests to replace diagnostic tests. This type of technique comes in handy when there is a bunch of people who need to be examined quickly. Once the technology has made considerable progress, breath tests can be used to screen a wide variety of different diseases. So the researchers are on a firm belief that invested effort will pay good fruits in the future.
Edward DeMauro, an Engineer at Rutgers University, says, “There is a big value in, even if the pandemic is over, not sitting back. That’s not the time to catch our breath.