Real-time Covid tests, a gamechanger

Sushim Mukul
Sushim MukulMay 11, 2023 | 09:33

Real-time Covid tests,  a gamechanger

The new breathalyzer capable of detecting COVID-19 in real-time has been developed. This is a representational image. (Photo Credit: AFP)

Researchers at the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US have created an advanced breathalyzer test that utilizes laser technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to quickly and reliably identify COVID-19, offering remarkable precision in real-time detection.

How will the test work?

'The frequency comb breathalyzer', rooted in Nobel Prize-winning advancements from CU employs an array of lasers and mirrors which direct invisible mid-infrared light at the breath sample molecules, the machine analyzes the unique absorption patterns of different molecules, enabling it to quickly determine a positive or negative result.


How is the test a game-changer?

  • The breathalyzer test offers several advantages over traditional methods of COVID-19 testing such as Rapid- Antigen and PCR tests, the gold standard.
  • In comparison to the PCR test, the breathalyzer achieved a matching rate of 85%. (In medical diagnostics, an accuracy rate of 80% or higher is considered "excellent.")
  • It is non-invasive, hence, eliminates the need for nasal swabs.
  • Users are not required to abstain from eating, drinking, or smoking before the test, unlike with saliva samples.
  • Moreover, the breathalyzer does not rely on expensive chemicals to analyze the sample.
  • Another notable benefit is its potential to be used on unconscious individuals.
  • The entire process, from sample collection to obtaining the result, is completed in under one hour.

The Future

  • Currently, the breathalyzer is a large setup resembling a banquet table in size. Researchers are actively working to shrink the system to a chip scale, envisioning a future of real-time, portable self-health monitoring. 
  • "There is a real, foreseeable future in which you could go to the doctor and have your breath measured along with your height and weight…Or you could blow into a mouthpiece integrated into your phone and get information about your health in real-time," said senior author Jun Ye, adjoint professor of physics at CU Boulder. "The potential is endless", he added.
  • "What if you could find a signature in the breath that could detect pancreatic cancer before you were even symptomatic? That would be the home run," said co-author Leslie Leinwand, chief scientific officer for BioFrontiers hinting at its application in the diagnosis of diseases as well.
  • This innovation has the potential to significantly transform medical diagnostics for a wide range of diseases.


Last updated: May 11, 2023 | 09:33
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