TeraGroup, an Israeli company, is working with the Israeli Ministry of Defense Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT) to develop a breathalyser test for COVID-19. In a recent television news segment, researchers involved in the project reported that they are making promising progress.
The technology uses terahertz frequencies and generates a result within 60 seconds. Individuals perform the test by taking a deep breath and then exhaling into a tube three times. Presence of the coronavirus within the exhaled breath aerosols is determined based on recognition of its spectral signature.
In addition to its benefits for providing an immediate result and avoiding any laboratory processing, the test has the advantage of eliminating the need for both a skilled individual to obtain the sample and swabs, which have been in limited supply in some areas.
According to one of the researchers, the breathalyser test may also detect the virus within the first four days after initial exposure, which is a window of time when results from polymerase chain reaction testing may be inaccurate.
The developers believe that by identifying people who are not carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, the test will allow workers to return to their jobs and thereby assist in mobilising the economy. They describe the breathalyser test as “the new thermometer”.
Amir Tirosh MD, PhD, Director of the Endocrine Institute, Sheba Medical Center, Ramat Gan, Israel, said that this project can change how the world copes with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If we are debating whether to open the economy, how much to open, and how safe will it be, this changes the rules of the game,” said Dr Tirosh.
The terahertz technology was being used for gender detection in avian eggs. It became the focus for developing a diagnostic test for COVID-19 within just a few days after government leaders and representatives from MAFAT decided to begin thinking outside of the box to come up with ideas for fighting the pandemic, including by looking at the potential of technologies that were already available on the market.
The performance of the breathalyser test is being investigated at the Magen David Adom drive-through testing site in Jerusalem. Individuals who arrived for a traditional swab test at that centre were first asked to blow into the breathalyser’s collection tube.
We want to hear from you with stories, suggestions or ideas, national recommendations and guidelines. Please send all your items to COVID19@escrs.org or use wetransfer.com for larger files