Could uncomfortable nasal swabs be swapped for a contactless two-second breathalyzer puff to check for Covid-19 infection? Prof. Hossam Haick thinks so.

Haick, a professor of chemical engineering and nanotechnology at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, first came to our attention in 2011 for his invention of “NaNose,” which can sniff out cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, gastric ailments and more. (Na-Nose is currently being assessed by medical regulators.)

When Covid-19 broke out earlier this year, Haick, together with Technion colleague Dr. Yoav Broza, together with researchers from Wuhan, China, began adapting Haick’s “breathalyzer” technology for the novel coronavirus.

The preliminary results look promising.

In a new peer-reviewed study published in the scientific journal ACS Nano, Haick’s sniffer tech correctly identified all positive patients in a clinical trial in Wuhan. The test detects disease-specific biomarkers in the breath with 92% accuracy, 100% sensitivity and 84% specificity, the researchers reported.

The new device, like the original, uses nanotechnology to identify specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the lung that are in the exhaled breath of coronavirus patients.

The Covid-19 breathalyzer could revolutionize testing for the virus – you just need to blow into the device for a couple of seconds from a distance of 2 centimeters and the results come back within 30 seconds.

Fast identification of Covid-positive patients is crucial for contact tracing and is considered the best way, short of a vaccine, to stem community transmission of the virus that has killed more than 800,000 people around the world.

A less invasive system would also make Covid testing more widespread, enabling health departments to identify pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic carriers.

The tests should cost around $2 to $3 a person, Haick added. The self-contained device does not require any additional accessories.

Image Credit:   Technion Spokesperson’s Office

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