Covid-19 can be detected in 1 min using breath test developed by NUS start-up

Another possible alternative to nasal swabs.

Nigel Chua | October 20, 2020, 12:06 PM

A National University of Singapore (NUS) start-up has developed a Covid-19 breath test which achieved more than 90 per cent accuracy in a 180-patient clinical trial.

Breathonix Pte Ltd, the company which developed the test, was founded by two NUS graduates, Jia Zhunan and Du Fang, under NUS's Graduate Research Innovation Programme (GRIP).

How it works

To take the breath test, a person will have to blow into a disposable mouthpiece.

The exhaled breath goes to a high-precision breath sampler where it is fed into a mass spectrometer.

There, a machine learning software analyses the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) present in a person’s exhaled breath and generates the results in less than a minute.

"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.”, explained Jia Zhunan, Chief Executive Officer of Breathonix Pte Ltd.

A pilot clinical trial involving 180 patients saw an accuracy rate of over 90 per cent.

The trial was done in collaboration with the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID).

Real-time diagnosis

As the breath test can produce results much more quickly than the current polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which can take a few hours, it is suitable for mass screening, and especially in areas with high human traffic, Jia said.

The breath test could thus be used in airports, as well as dormitories.

Breathonix is currently in the process of obtaining regulatory approval for their technology so that it can be deployed for screening.

Freddy Boey, NUS Deputy President for Innovation and Enterprise, and the Professor who leads GRIP, is advising them.

Boey said that the development of this new technology "demonstrates the huge potential of Singapore’s home-grown technologies and deep-tech start-ups."

"NUS is proud of the progress Breathonix has made since its inception, and we look forward to seeing their technology being deployed in Singapore in the near future to protect the health and well-being of the community," he added.

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Top image credit: National University of Singapore