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New Breathalyzer Test Can 'Sniff Out' Covid In Real-Time

Scientists have created a novel laser-based breathalyser test driven by artificial intelligence (AI) that they believe can identify Covid-19 in real-time with great accuracy.

The team from the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder in the US expects that the frequency comb breathalyseróessentially utilizing laser light to identify one molecule from anotherócould change medical diagnosis.

“Our results demonstrate the promise of breath analysis as an alternative, rapid, non-invasive test for Covid-19 and highlight its remarkable potential for diagnosing diverse conditions and disease states,” stated research first author Qizhong Liang, a PhD candidate at CU Boulder.

“There is a real, foreseeable future in which you could go to the doctor and have your breath measured along with your height and weightÖOr you could blow into a mouthpiece integrated into your phone and obtain information about your health in real-time,” said Jun Ye, adjoint professor at CU Boulder and senior author of the research published in the Journal of Breath Research.

The research team took breath samples from 170 CU Boulder students between May 2021 and January 2022 who had taken a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within the previous 48 hours, either by providing a saliva sample or a nasal sample. Both halves of the samples had been positive. From collection to result, the entire process took less than an hour.

When compared to PCR, the gold standard Covid test, breathalyser findings matched 85 per cent of the time. For medical diagnostics, accuracy of 80 per cent or above is regarded “excellent”. The researchers noted that the accuracy would likely have been higher if the breath and saliva/nasal swab samples were collected at the same time.

Unlike a nasal swab, a breathalyzer requires no bodily contact. And unlike a saliva sample, users are not requested to stop from eating, drinking or smoking before using it, the researchers noted. The sample doesn't need to be broken down with expensive chemicals for the test. And the test might, perhaps, be used on persons who are not conscious, they claimed.

The breathalyser test consists of a complicated array of lasers and mirrors roughly the size of a dinner table. Invisible mid-infrared light from lasers is fired at a breath sample through a tube at thousands of different frequencies. The light travels about 1.5 miles because it bounces back and forth through the molecules so many times thanks to dozens of tiny mirrors.

Breath samples with varied chemical compositions produce diverse shadows because each kind of molecule absorbs light in a unique way. The system can discriminate between those varied shadows or absorption patterns, reducing millions of data points down toóin the instance of COVIDóa simple affirmative or negative, in a matter of seconds.As Liang puts it, “real-time, self-health monitoring on the go” will be possible thanks to the researchers' efforts to miniaturize such systems to chip size.

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