Researchers Explore Breathtaking Possibility: A Rapid, Low-Cost COVID-19 Breath Test

By Mandy Roth

A new innovation might inject a breath of fresh air into the world of COVID-19 detection.

A joint development agreement between BreathTech Corporation, a subsidiary of Austin, Texas-based Astrotech, and Cleveland Clinic focuses on using a non-invasive device that will analyze breath samples to identify COVID-19 strains. The goal, according to a news release, is to produce a low-cost, self-service screening option that could be deployed on a large scale.

“Each person has a unique breathprint made up of thousands of exhaled compounds, which can tell physicians a lot about what’s happening in the body,” said Raed Dweik, MD, chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute, in the release. Dweik will lead the Cleveland Clinic team which will explore whether the “library” of Astrotech’s existing BreathTest-1000 mass spectrometer can be adapted to rapidly screen for COVID-19 or related indicators.

Past research by Dweik and his research team helped establish that unique volatile organic compound metabolites in the breath can be used to detect certain diseases including asthma, heart failure, pulmonary arterial hypertension, and liver disease.

“The advantage of breath testing is that it is non-invasive and non-intrusive,” said Dweik. “It does not have a dose limitation like x-rays, an amount limitation like blood or saliva tests, or a timing limitation like PCR, blood, and urine tests. Breath testing can be performed repeatedly as needed,” he explained.

“This technology has the potential to make COVID-19 testing more accessible and rapidly available, as well as to guide critical therapeutic decisions,” Dweik said.

If successful, the device may be able to screen patients within a minute. Its portability and ability to produce rapid results could make it ideally suited for use in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and airports , said Thomas B. Pickens III, CEO and chief technology officer of BreathTech.

The joint team plans to open a clinical trial with the technology in the coming months.

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.