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Researchers working on a breathalyzer for detecting COVID-19

Researchers working on a breathalyzer for detecting COVID-19

Can your breath show if you have COVID-19? McMaster researchers are using new technology to find out.

McMaster University and New Brunswick-based medical device company, Picomole Inc., are partnering to advance and support COVID-19 screening efforts.

They’ve been awarded nearly $200,000 from the Department of National Defence’s IDEaS Challenge competition, designed to support the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 research and development efforts.

Researcher MyLinh Duong

Specifically, McMaster researchers MyLinh Duong and Tim O’Shea are leading this proof-of-concept study with Picomole Inc. to develop and assess its proprietary breath analytics screening technology, which will serve as an additional testing and screening method to identify COVID-19 in the population. Their project, Breath Analysis of Patients Diagnosed with Covid-19 using Infrared Spectroscopy, aims to examine Picomole’s breath analytics technology by screening for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the breath of COVID-19 patients.

Duong and O’Shea are using Picomole’s device to collect patient breath samples from Hamilton Health Sciences and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton Hospitals. The samples will then be analyzed by the company’s breath analysis technology to generate unique results and distinguish COVID-19 patients from controls.

Duong, a professor in McMaster’s Department of Medicine and a respirologist at Hamilton Health Sciences, says she’s excited to be working with Picomole and employing their novel technology.

“This technology has the potential to provide rapid and non-invasive point-of-care screening and diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infections in the community,” she said. “It will facilitate the early and rapid detection of cases and community-based surveillance of COVID-19, which can inform important public health decisions.”

Picomole’s CEO Stephen Graham says he’s confident that the company’s non-invasive screening techniques will be effective in detecting COVID-19, noting the analysis of volatile organic compounds (VOC) in exhaled breath is a proven method that can be used for the detection of disease in a timely fashion.

O’Shea, an associate professor in McMaster’s Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and an internal medicine specialist at the Juravinski Hospital, says the project is “a great opportunity to bring together a number of different partners in order to improve our diagnostic capabilities with respect to COVID-19.

Karen Mossman, McMaster’s vice-president of research, saluted the federal government for investing in Canadian innovation at such an important time.

“This early work with Picomole holds such promise for Canadians and has the potential to shape and inform public health policies for years to come.” 

The success of the study – which will be complete in June – will enable Picomole’s technology to be scaled to population and could be a major step forward in the field of COVID-19 detection.

The IDEaS COVID-19 Challenges grants target four areas of development including: workspace sanitization; pandemic decision making; reuse of protective equipment; and moral trauma on the frontline.

By Rafik El Werfalli

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