Detecting COVID-19 With A Single Blow

Through a new breathalyzer developed by Singapore start-up Breathonix, detecting COVID-19 could soon be as quick and easy as blowing into a mouthpiece.

AsianScientist (Jul. 15, 2021) – Singapore has provisionally approved a breathalyzer test that can show if someone is infected with COVID-19 in less than minute. The test was developed by Breathonix, a spin-off from the National University of Singapore (NUS).

After almost two years of living amidst the coronavirus pandemic, a wide variety of diagnostic methods have since been developed to detect the disease. Until today, the gold standard remains the reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), which picks up and amplifies SARS-CoV-2’s genetic material in the patient sample.

Despite the accuracy offered by RT-PCR, it comes with several caveats. For instance, turnaround time can take a day or longer, and the technique requires specialized equipment as well as trained technicians. While rapid test kits that detect viral antibodies in around 15 minutes are currently available, the trade-off for the tests’ speed is accuracy.

But speed and accuracy don’t always have to come at the cost of the other. As proven by Breathonix, it’s entirely possible to create a diagnostic that is both quick and precise. Called the BreFence™ Go COVID-19 Breath Test System, users must blow into a disposable mouthpiece attached to a breath sampler—much like the breathalyzers traditionally used to detect blood alcohol content.

The exhaled breath is subsequently fed into a mass spectrometer that detects organic compounds characteristic of COVID-19 infection. A software algorithm then assesses the chemical signature, delivering results within one minute.

Incredibly, the breath test achieved over 90 percent accuracy in a Singapore-based clinical trial run in 2020. While RT-PCR swab test is still needed to confirm results, it should be noted that the breathalyzer is considerably easier to use and does not require any bulky, expensive equipment.

The system has since been approved by Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority. Breathonix is now working with the health ministry to run a deployment trial at one of the city-state’s border points with Malaysia, where it will be carried out alongside the current compulsory COVID-19 antigen rapid test.

“Our breath test is easy to administer, and does not require specially-trained staff or laboratory processing. Results are generated in real-time, making it an attractive solution for mass screening, especially in areas with high human traffic. We believe our breath analysis platform shows promise in changing the tides of this pandemic,” commented Breathonix CEO Dr. Jia Zhunan.


Source: Breathonix; Photo: Breathonix.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

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