NUS spin-off company develops one-minute breath test to detect COVID-19

Breathonix’s breath analysis technology works by detecting Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) present in a person’s exhaled breath.
By Dean Koh
04:15 am
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Credit: NUS

Founded in Singapore in September 2019, Breathonix Pte Ltd, a spin-off company from the National University of Singapore (NUS), has developed an easy-to-use breath test to detect COVID-19 within a minute. The company develops non-invasive breath tests for disease detection.

Breathonix was founded by two NUS graduates, Dr Jia Zhunan and Mr Du Fang, and is supported by the NUS Graduate Research Innovation Programme (GRIP), a scheme that encourages the University’s talented graduate students and research staff to establish and run high potential start-ups based on deep technologies.

HOW IT WORKS

The startup’s breath analysis technology works by detecting Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) present in a person’s exhaled breath. Dr Jia, the CEO of Breathonix explained, "VOCs are consistently produced by various biochemical reactions in human cells. Different diseases cause specific changes to the compounds, resulting in detectable changes in a person’s breath profile. As such, VOCs can be measured as markers for diseases like COVID-19.”

The test is simple to administer. A person only needs to blow into a disposable mouthpiece connected to a high-precision breath sampler. The exhaled breath is collected and fed into a cutting-edge mass spectrometer for measurement. A machine learning software analyses the VOC profile and generates the result in less than a minute.

ONGOING CLINICAL TRIAL & POTENTIAL APPLICATIONS

The team at Breathonix collaborated with the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), to test their breath analysis system for COVID-19 detection. In a pilot clinical trial involving 180 patients, Breathonix’s breath test, which uses in-built machine learning algorithms, achieved more than 90 per cent accuracy, with sensitivity (i.e. correctly identify those with the disease) of 93 per cent, and specificity (i.e. correctly identify those without the disease) of 95 per cent.

The clinical trial is ongoing, and more tests are required to further improve the accuracy of the technology.

If assessed to be suitable, this breath analysis platform could potentially be deployed in airports to facilitate the recovery of the tourism sector, as well as in places with high human traffic, such as dormitories.

THE LARGER TREND

Singapore has no shortage of innovative solutions when it comes to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, a group of clinicians from Singapore partnered with Biobot Surgical Pte Ltd, a local company which focuses on medical robotics solutions, to develop a robot that automates nasal swabbing needed to diagnose COVID-19, Healthcare IT News reported

The robot, called SwabBot, is a self-administered robot which allows individuals being swabbed to activate and terminate the swabbing process at will. Earlier in the year, Singapore-based companies have also developed several COVID-19 test kits:  these include the Fortitude Kit SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR test, Biolidics Rapid Test kit and Veredus Laboratories’ VereCoV detection kit.

ON THE RECORD

“Our breath test is easy to administer, and it 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,” said Dr Jia.

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