New York, May 11 (IANS): US researchers have developed a novel laser-based breathalyser that is powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and can diagnose Covid using exhaled breath, an advance that can someday also detect cancer and lung disease.
With each breath, humans exhale more than 1,000 distinct molecules, producing a unique chemical fingerprint or "breathprint" rich with clues about whata¿s going on inside the body.
For decades, scientists have sought to harness that information, turning to dogs, rats and even bees to literally sniff out cancer, diabetes, tuberculosis and more.
The new breathalyser developed by scientists from University of Colorado-Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) can detect Covid-19 in real-time with 85 per cent accuracy, when compared to PCR, the gold standard Covid test.
The results were published in the Journal of Breath Research.
"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," said Qizhong Liang, from the Department of Physics 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 weightaOr you could blow into a mouthpiece integrated into your phone and get information about your health in real-time," added Jun Ye, Professor of physics at CU Boulder. "The potential is endless."
Between May 2021 and January 2022, the research team collected breath samples from 170 CU Boulder students who had, in the previous 48 hours, taken a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, either by submitting a saliva or a nasal sample.A
Half had tested positive, half negative.
Unlike a nasal swab, the breathalyser is non-invasive.
And unlike a saliva sample, users are not asked to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking before using it.
It doesn't require costly chemicals to break down the sample. And the new test could, conceivably, be used on individuals who are not conscious.
The novel "breathalyser" consists of a complex array of lasers and mirrors about the size of a banquet table.
A breath sample is piped in through a tube as lasers fire invisible mid-infrared light at it at thousands of different frequencies.
Dozens of tiny mirrors bounce the light back and forth through the molecules so many times that in the end, the light travels about 1.5 miles.
Because each kind of molecule absorbs light differently, breath samples with a different molecular make-up cast distinct shadows.
The machine can distinguish between those different shadows or absorption patterns, boiling millions of data points down to -- in the case of Covid -- a simple positive or negative, in a matter of seconds.
"What if you could find a signature in breath that could detect pancreatic cancer before you were even symptomatic. That would be the home run," said molecular biologist and co-author Leslie Leinwand, chief scientific officer for BioFrontiers and a co-author on the study