January 2021

“Smelling” COVID-19

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A simple test—akin to the well-known breathalyser to detect blood alcohol—may be able to “smell” COVID-19 according to Indonesian researchers. Using AI in the form of an electronic nose, the GeNose C-19 device is able to identify elements that are unique to COVID-19. This test is expected to be in use in India by February to increase mass testing of people for coronavirus at hospitals, airports, seaports, and other public places in the world’s fourth most populous country.

A similar test is under development at Indiana University’s School of Engineering and Technology. In response to a call from the US National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense, a team lead by Mangilal Agarwal, PhD, is developing a sensor that would identify the scent in breath altered by COVID-19. “We have the unique perspective of identifying a signature. We’re looking at the metabolic pathways the virus causes, which can be identified,” Agarwal said, adding that they are collecting breath samples from people who have tested positive, including asymptomatically, and negative for COVID-19.

A third such test is under development at Texas A&M University. This test uses a kiosk where a person uses a disposable straw to blow into a copper inlet. In less than a minute, test results can be sent to the person’s smartphone. The beauty of this approach is that it’s noninvasive, there’s no touching or the need to get within 6 feet of another person, and it’s fast—the results are immediate, or at least as fast as your phone’s service provider can muster. Using AI, the team is improving results every day.

Sources: Barker A. Could a breathalyser help detect COVID-19? Indonesian scientists say they’ve developed one. ABC News. Available at abc.net.au/news/2021-01-02/indonesia-to-use-breathalysers-to-help-detect-covid-19/13019744. Accessed Jan. 5, 2021.

Schwarb J. Breath test to detect COVID-19 in development by IUPUI researchers. Available at news.iu.edu/stories/2020/12/iupui/16-breathalyzer-breath-test-device-covid-19-coronavirus.html  Accessed Jan. 5, 2021.

Reilly M. Texas A&M System, Worlds Inc. Collaborate on COVID-19 Breathalyzer. Available at today.tamu.edu/2020/11/19/texas-am-system-worlds-inc-collaborate-on-covid-19-breathalyzer/. Accessed Jan. 5, 2021.

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