Could a breathalyzer detect COVID-19? OSU researchers are hopeful

$200,000 grant given to the program to come up with working model.

Could a breathalyzer detect COVID-19? OSU researchers are hopeful
Researchers at Ohio State University are working on a breathalyzer device that could test for COVID-19. (Source: The Ohio State University)

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Engineers at Ohio State University (OSU) are working on a breathalyzer that might be able to detect biomarkers in a person’s breath to determine if they are COVID-19 positive.

The device would be much simpler to use than the current test, which requires a swab to be inserted through the nose, pushed deep into the nasal cavity then tested in one of only a handful of labs around the state.

“Breath analysis is not really a technique that is used widely in the medical field yet, so it is considered early-stage work,” Dr. Perena Gouma said, director of the Advanced Ceramics Research Laboratory and professor in the College of Engineering “We have a sensor device that detects nitric oxide and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in breath and can be used to tell you about the onset of an infectious disease.”

Sparking interest, the project was just awarded a $200,000 National Science Foundation EAGER grant.

This isn’t new territory for Gouma, who, before her time at OSU, worked on a similar device that could detect the flu even before a person would show symptoms.

“We are working on making these hand-held monitors that will be widely distributed, and they’re very inexpensive,” she said. “The technology evolved from the sensors used for monitoring gases in an automotive exhaust – that’s how we started on breath analysis 20 years ago.”

The device is in the early stages of development.

The applications are numerous, considering it would be small, portable and would not need trained medical staff to administer the breath test.

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