A biomedical researcher from the department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Texas has invented a hand-held breathalyzer that has been programmed to detect the biomarkers for influenza.
The sensors in the device functions in a similar fashion to the breathalyzers used by police forces the world over to detect alcohol, although the device contains semi-conductors more similar to those used in home carbon monoxide sensors. Rather than being configured to detect the presence of carbon monoxide, professor Perena Gouma used sensors that can detect biomarkers of the influenza virus.
Influenza causes between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths in the United States each year. Fast detection of infection can help vulnerable individuals obtain medical treatment promptly in the early stages of infection, preventing life-threatening symptoms from developing. A device that could detect infection could help to prevent the spread of the virus, helping to contain epidemics.
When developing the device, Gouma and her team used medical literature to determine the exact quantities of biomarkers that would need to be in the breath to determine whether an individual had contracted an infection. They then sourced biosensors that would be able to detect those concentrations in the breath with the required degree of accuracy.
The researchers determined that a sensor capable of detecting nitric oxide in the breath, combined with a sensor that detects ammonia, could be combined into the device and produce a comparable if not more accurate diagnosis than the tests typically performed in physician’s offices.
Previous methods used to detect biomarkers in the breath have been effective, although the technology required is very expensive. Since the influenza breath test is inexpensive to produce, it could be sold at a price point that would make it suitable for home use.
While the researchers have concentrated on influenza, the breath test could be developed further to detect a number of diseases and medical conditions. Gouma says, “I think that technology like this is going to revolutionize personalized diagnostics. This will allow people to be proactive and catch illnesses early, and the technology can easily be used to detect other diseases, such as Ebola virus disease, simply by changing the sensors.”
The study was recently published in the January 2017 edition of the journal Sensors.