We’ve covered a smattering of COVID-19 detection technologies that use voice samples, smart rings, smartphone apps that listen to coughs, and even fitness band data. In late October, OSU announced that researchers from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center published the results of a study in PLOS ONE. The study found highly accurate results using nanosensor-equipped breathalyzers to detect COVID-19 in critically ill patients on mechanical ventilators in ICUs with acute respiratory failure.

We want to underscore that the OSU researchers did not test a general population, either in or out of a hospital. So this study, while very interesting, is for now a potential prospect for future studies with more diverse subjects. The OSU team tested 46 patients in ICUs, half with and half without active COVID-19 infections. The patients exhaled into breath bags. The OSU team collected the breath bags on the days 1, 3, 7, and 10 of the patients’ time in the ICU.

The researchers used a breathalyzer equipped with nanosensors to identify distinctive breath biomarkers. Pelagia-Irene Gouma, researcher and professor in Ohio State’s departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Milutin Stanaćević, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Stony Brook University developed the breathalyzer to detect the breath print of COVID-19. According to the research team, a patient with COVID-19 has a specific breath print from the interaction of oxygen, nitric oxide, and ammonia. Breath prints from the patients in the study detected COVID-19 pneumonia with 88% accuracy. Dr. Matthew Exline, the lead researcher, director of critical care at University Hospital and professor of internal medicine at Ohio State stated “The breathalyzer test used in our study can detect COVID-19 within seconds.”

The OSU researchers plan future studies with less severe cases of COVID-19. The current study detected the breath print in patients with COVID-19 pneumonia in 15 seconds. The investigators will also look for other ways that nanosensor-equipped breathalyzers can assist detection or monitoring other infections or diseases. The speed in obtaining results and noninvasive nature of the test are significant improvements over the current gold standard PCR deep nasal swab that can take days to return results.