TAMPA, Florida – A team of researchers from the University of South Florida is working to find a way to track the virus that causes COVID-19 through people’s breath.
You have been recognized as a semi-finalist in the XPRIZE Rapid COVID test competition. Additional funding is at stake for the finalists.
“We have developed a device that enables very fast, accurate, sensitive and selective diagnosis within minutes. So in that sense it’s kind of a game changer, ”said Dr. Salvatore Morgera, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering at the USF.
The electronic sensor system is called “Bull Nose”. They hope that one day it will help search for the virus that causes COVID-19 by detecting levels of volatile organic compounds that are specific for SARS-CoV-2.
“Our device tries to electronically record the composition of the exhaled breath in people who may be suffering from an illness. And we’re focusing on COVID19, ”said Morgera.
The team has created a prototype that is still in the test phase.
“We acknowledge the fact that a person infected by a pathogen, a virus like COVID, exhales a breath that has a certain composition,” said Morgera.
“This is a screening tool where the user breathes into the valve and the sensor determines the concentration of volatile organic compounds in a person’s breath,” said Tiffany Miller, Ph.D. Student working on the project.
Miller said that when the breath comes in contact with the sensors, the voltage changes with the concentration of the gases.
“If you have an illness, this breath signature pattern can be identified. That way we can enable this device to look closely for COVID19, “she said.
At the moment, Miller said they have a testbed platform and are working on adding and calibrating sensors and building a database of volatile organic compounds.
They also work with breathing specialists in Europe and other COVID-19 breath analysis studies.
“Based on the breath data collected, we can really examine selected key biomarkers, potential biomarker candidates for COVID-19, in greater detail,” said Miller.
According to Morgera, the device is unique in that it uses synthetic slime.
“We used mucus as a film on the sensors so that when the exhaled breath interacts with the sensors, it first interacts as if it were interacting with our nasal passage, so we get a much more accurate result with synthetic mucus,” he said.
He also said they also want to look beyond the breath, including scanning the eyes.
While their focus is on COVID-19, the researchers stated that there could be potential uses beyond that.
“It could be used in other pandemics or other viral or bacterial infections in an individual,” Miller said. “This can also be used in agriculture to determine the ripeness of fruit based on the volatile organic compounds emitted, as well as in the meat processing industry.”
The finalists for the competition will be announced next week.