From the beginning, the ability to provide efficient and adequate COVID testing in this pandemic has been a challenge. Initially, too few testing options were available. Likewise, those that have since been developed are often uncomfortable and associated with significant lag times in results. This has not only led to frustrations, but it has also caused delays in detection. These delays increase the risk that an asymptomatic person may spread the coronavirus infection unknowingly for days. This is why the development of easier COVID testing is needed that can provide near-immediate results to the masses.
Fortunately, innovative businesses around the glob are involved in these pursuits. From COVID breathalyzer machines to gargle-and-spit tests, technology is fighting back. While nasal and pharyngeal swabs remain the currently favored method of COVID testing, others may soon take over. And while this may not cure an existing infection, breathalyzer machines and other new approaches can reduce spread. The potential for these innovations is quite promising. In all likelihood, the COVID testing landscape will look much different in a few months.
“[The breathalyzer test] may serve as a base for technology that would lead to a reduction in number of unneeded confirmatory tests and lower the burden on the hospitals, while allowing individuals a screening solution that can be performed in PoC [point of care] facilities.” – Hossam Hiack, M.D., Chief Technology Officer at Nanose Medical
The Challenges of Current COVID Testing
The existing problems with COVID testing have been well publicized. In essence, they fall into three main categories. The nasal swab tests are uncomfortable and require both time and precautions to administer. Secondly, these tests require a significant number of accessories. In addition to swabs, individuals conducting the tests need gloves and persona protective equipment. Finally, most COVID tests being performed among larger populations are taking 48 hours or more before results are received. None of these are ideal, which is why COVID-19 is catalyzing new healthcare discoveries.
These reason current tests have these challenges relate to the way the testing is being performed. Nasal swab specimens are required to perform the PCR tests being conductive. The PCR tests then must look for viral RNA in the sample, convert it to DNA, and then amplify its quantity. This allows the reagents to then detect whether or not the coronavirus is present. Rapid antigen COVID testing exists that can provide results within a few minutes. In the U.S. Abbott’s ID NOW COVID 19 test provides this service. However, it is not capable of being employed for mass testing. For these reasons, news of a breathalyzer test has attracted significant excitement.
“Our [breathalyzer] system has the potential to drastically reduce the time it takes for diagnosis and makes it easier to perform tests at the point of use…It could allow us to mass test people returning from abroad on flights or on entering schools to ensure the continued safety of the general population.” – Linda Pomeroy, M.D., CEO of ANCON
Breathalyzer Tests Offer New Excitement
The concept of a breathalyzer is not new ever since law enforcement began using them to detect drivers under the influence. But in recent years, technology companies have been exploring breathalyzer methods to detect the presence of lung cancer. With the growing pandemic, these same companies are now exploring a COVID breathalyzer test. In essence, these machines may be able to detect breath patterns that confirm the presence or absence of COVID. And not only are these easy to use, but they offer results in seconds without the need to additional equipment.
Two major investigations are ongoing in terms of these breathalyzer tests. Researchers in Israel and China recently tests a COVID breathalyzer test in 140 patients. Some had known coronavirus, others did not, and others had other lung infections. The results showed the breathalyzer correctly identified all 49 cases with COVID in addition to seven false positives. Its overall accuracy was touted to be 92 percent. The Nanose device uses a gold nanoparticle linked to a molecule that changes when exposed to COVID particles. Through machine learning, it is able to delineate a COVID change in the molecule from other changes.
Nanose is not the only breathalyzer being developed for COVID testing. ANCON Medical is a firm in the UK that is also testing this type of innovative technology. Like Nanose, ANCON’s device also uses nanotechnology to analyze chemicals in one’s breath that indicate a coronavirus infection. Likewise, the results are available within seconds. ANCON’s breathalyzer is currently undergoing trials involving 200 patients to evaluate its potential. Either of these COVID testing measures could be used to tremendously expand mass screenings in as little as six months.
“This [COVID testing] system is very rapid, cheap, and is looking reliable. It’s suitable for mass screening, as well as airport screening, screening at nursing homes, and even screening at home.” – Eli Schwartz, Researcher at Sheba’s Center for Geographic Medicine, Israel
An Evolving Technology Landscape for COVID Testing
While breathalyzer testing looks like a promising COVID testing advance, it is not the only active area of research. Another new coronavirus test created at Sheba Hospital in Israel uses a gargle-and-spit test to look for positive cases. Individuals gargle with a special mouthwash and then spit into a small ashtray-sized dish. Nanotechnology is then used to evaluate the light spectrum the fluid emits. If the pattern matches those from other samples with COVID, the test is deemed positive. Not only is this test inexpensive and fast with immediate results, but it has a 95 percent accuracy rate.
At this point in time, everyone is hoping a coronavirus vaccine will be around the corner. But it remains unclear if this is the case or if any degree of longstanding immunity can be achieved. Therefore, the ability to develop rapid and inexpensive COVID testing protocols for mass populations is essential. Measures like breathalyzer testing, oral rinses, and others are therefore needed to prevent unnecessary spread of the virus. At least at this moment in time, these technologies are just as important in our battle with COVID.
COVID-19 is certainly a challenge and society is rising to the occasion. To read more about those who have turned obstacles into opportunities, check out Ed Kopko’s PROJECT BOLD LIFE: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success.