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Ohio State professor's invention could change how people are tested for COVID-19

The idea comes from Dr. Perena Gouma, who has been studying breath analyzer technology for 20 years

COLUMBUS, Ohio — If people want to get tested for COVID-19 today, it usually requires a doctor’s note and then they have to schedule an appointment at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing station.

There, people get a throat culture done using a long swab while sitting in their car.

Results take about 24 hours to come back.

An idea by a professor at the Ohio State University could make testing able to be done at home and the wait time could be cut to 15 seconds.

Dr. Prenea Gouma at the College of Engineering at Ohio State University has been studying breath analyzer technology for 20 years.

“This is very inexpensive technology, “she said.

“Breath analysis is not really a technique that is used widely in the medical field yet, so it is considered early-stage work,” Gouma said. 

“[We] have a sensor device that detects nitric oxide and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in breath and can be used to tell you about the onset of an infectious disease,” she said.

It works by someone blowing into a mouthpiece.

The machines analyzes 1,000 gases in someone's mouth at very low levels.

In her lab, she tests her machine by using gas canisters which are mixed to simulate a COVID-19 molecule.

She said it takes 15 seconds to get results.

“We can do an early detection, even asymptotic ones."

Dr.Gouma said because it is simple to use, the government, airports, and the military are interested in her work.

“If they have a device like this they can screen people on site,” she said.

She said her prototype is 90% accurate.

It could also be used in the medical intensive care units and at hospitals and doctor’s offices as a bedside test. 

Dr. Gouma said the breathalyzer technology may become the platform to help detect metabolic problems like cancer, Alzheimer’s disease or diabetes, by choosing the appropriate biomarker to sample.

Gouma, director of the Advanced Ceramics Research Laboratory is working with co-investigator Andrew Bowman, associate professor of veterinary preventive medicine.

The project was awarded a nearly $200,000 National Science Foundation EAGER grant this month under a program supporting exploratory, early-stage research on untested, but potentially transformative, ideas or approaches.