Trials of a new Covid-19 breath test in the UAE has opened up the possibility of detecting the virus within seconds rather than hours.
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The Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU), Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and Breathonix Pte Ltd are currently carrying out a joint clinical trial to assess the accuracy of the easy-to-use breath test.
The test gives results in 60 seconds.
The trials are being conducted at the DHA’s Nadd Al Hamar primary health care centre for 2,500 patients.
This is the technology that's used: A person needs to blow into a disposable mouthpiece connected to a high-precision breath sampler. The exhaled breath is collected into a breath sampler and fed into a cutting-edge mass spectrometer for measurement. A machine learning software analyses the volatile organic compound (VOC) profile and generates the result in less than a minute.
“The whole process of breath collection to diagnosis takes less than a minute,” announced the DHA on Saturday, March 13. The authority hopes that the technology will significantly reduce the burden on laboratory processing.
“It will drastically reduce the time taken to get the results, in comparison to the presently available testing methods such as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test,” said Dr Nada Al Mulla, director of the DHA’s Nadd Al Hamar Primary Healthcare Sector. “The breath test for screening Covid-19 is highly efficient for mass screening, especially in areas of high (density)."
Breathonix, a spin-off company of the National University of Singapore (NUS), has developed the test.
Breathonix said that a Singapore-based pilot study involving 180 patients achieved a sensitivity of 93 per cent and specificity of 95 per cent with a machine learning algorithm.
According to Dr Jia Zhunan, co-founder and chief executive officer of Breathonix, the technology is effortless to use.
How does it work?
The breath analysis technology offers a fast and convenient solution to identify Covid-19 infection. It works by detecting VOCs present in a person’s exhaled breath. Various biochemical reactions in human cells consistently produce VOCs.
“Different diseases cause specific changes to the compounds, resulting in detectable changes in a person’s breath profile. As such, VOCs can be measured as markers for diseases like Covid-19,” said Dr Zhuhan.
The breath test is non-invasive and is unlikely to cause any discomfort, as the person is only required to breathe out generally into the device. “It is also quick and easy to train people on how to carry out the test so that healthcare professionals can roll it out to testing sites."
Since the advent of the pandemic, mass testing has been widely adopted as a critical public health strategy to detect and prevent infections. Apart from PCR and laser-based Diffractive Phase Interferometry (DPI) testing for Covid-19, health authorities in the UAE use at least six different testing methodologies to detect the coronavirus.
These include antibody, antigen and Reverse Transcription LAMP (RT-LAMP) tests. The UAE has also conducted a study on the accuracy of saliva testing on children.
Dr Hanan Al Suwaidi, lead investigator of the study, head of the testing stream in Dubai’s Covid-19 Command and Control Centre, and assistant professor of family medicine at MBRU, said: “Before this, we conducted a study on the accuracy of saliva testing for Covid-19 for children and posted the research."
Dr Hussain Al Samt, director of Pathology and Genetics Department at the DHA, explained: “The technology can drastically improve diagnostics and care for Covid-19 patients. This kind of rapid diagnosis has the potential to be a game-changer in the global fight against Covid-19.”
It may help ease travel
The testing equipment was brought in from Singapore to Dubai, thanks to Emirates Airline. It sponsored the expedited transportation of Breathonix's breath test system to support the clinical trial in Dubai.
The technology is expected to hugely benefit the re-opening of international travel and other economic activities, according to Adel Al Redha, Emirates’ chief operating officer.
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