One-minute 'game changing' COVID-19 breath test currently being trialled in Dubai

The technology by Singaporean company, Breathonix can reportedly produce results within 60 seconds by detecting Volatile Organic Compounds [VOCs] in a patient’s exhaled breath.
By Rachel McArthur
06:54 am
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Credit: MBRU

A rapid breath test that is reportedly capable of detecting COVID-19 within 60 seconds is currently being trialled in Dubai.

Developed by Breathonix, a company associated with the National University of Singapore (NUS), the breath test is being assessed for accuracy by the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU) and Dubai Health Authority (DHA).

A total of 2,500 patients are involved in the trial taking place at the Nadd Al Hamar primary healthcare centre, the DHA confirmed.

THE LARGER CONTEXT

Initial trials of the potentially game changing test took place on 180 patients in Singapore, with results showing a sensitivity of 93% and specificity of 95% with machine learning algorithm.

“Prior to this collaboration, Breathonix completed an initial clinical trial with the National Centre of Infectious Diseases (NCID) in Singapore, where the team achieved a sensitivity of 93% and specificity of 95%. This clinical trial seeks to improve and validate the accuracy of Breathonix's solution,” said Breathonix co-founder and CEO, Jia Zhunan. “The breath analysis technology that we have developed offers a fast and convenient solution to identify COVID-19 infection. It works by detecting Volatile Organic Compounds [VOCs] present in a person’s exhaled breath. 

“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 conducted by having an individual blow into a disposable mouthpiece connected to a high-precision breath sampler. This is then fed into a mass spectrometer for measurement. Finally, the result is produced after special software analyses the VOC profile.

Du Fang, co-founder and COO of Breathonix elaborated: “The breath test is non-invasive and is unlikely to cause any discomfort, as the person is only required to breathe out normally into the device. 

“It is also quick and easy to train people on how to carry out the test, so it can be easily rolled out to testing sites.”

With current polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 currently taking an average of 24-48 hours to produce results in the United Arab Emirates, a rapid breath test of this kind could potentially facilitate numerous processes, such as emergency testing, emergency travel and others.

Hussain Al Samt, director of pathology and genetics at the DHA, said: “In line with the vision of the leadership of the UAE, DHA is keen to foster medical research and innovation. We have collaborated with national and international institutes in the field of research and innovation particularly for COVID-19 to implement path-breaking technologies, which can drastically improve diagnostics and care for COVID-19 patients. 

“This technology is certainly very promising particularly because the speed of diagnosis is just 60 seconds per patient. This kind of rapid diagnosis has a potential to be a game-changer in the global fight against COVID-19.” 

ON THE RECORD

“If approved and implemented, this technology will significantly reduce the burden on laboratory processing. It will drastically reduce the time taken to get the results in comparison to the presently available testing methods such as a PCR test,” said Nada Al Mulla, director of DHA’s Nadd Al Hamar primary healthcare sector. “The breath test for screening COVID-19 is highly efficient for mass screening especially in areas of high-traffic.”

Adel Al Redha, COO of the UAE national airline, Emirates, added: “An accurate, rapid, and non-invasive solution for COVID-19 testing will hugely benefit the re-opening of international travel and other economic activity. 

“Emirates is glad to have been able to help transport Breathonix’s breath test system for this important study, and support Dubai in seeking and implementing innovative and effective approaches to managing the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, Hanan Al Suwaidi, lead Investigator of the study, head of the testing stream at Dubai’s COVID-19 Command & Control Center, and Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at MBRU concluded: “MBRU has been a catalyst in the region in the field of medical research and innovation; we have been conducting impactful research particularly with regard to COVID-19 and we have collaborated with national as well as international organizations to conduct our research. 

“Prior to this, we conducted a study on the accuracy of saliva testing for COVID-19 for children and post the research; the technology was implemented across certain DHA centres. The world has seen how medical research, innovation and technology have helped in the global fight against COVID-19.  We are keen to further strengthen research in the field of tech-transfer as technology has the potential to radically improve healthcare processes, healthcare management and most importantly patient outcomes.”  

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