A new breathalyzer sniffs out COVID in real-time and could be used to detect lung disease and cancer.
At the moment the laser-based breathalyzer is the size of a large table, but scientists hope to scale it down to be small enough to attach to a phone.
Senior author of the study Jun Ye, a professor of physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, said the potential for the technology was “endless”.
“There is a real, foreseeable future in which you could go to the doctor and have your breath measured along with your height and weight,” he said.
“Or you could blow into a mouthpiece integrated into your phone and get information about your health in real-time.”
The initial study using the breathalyzer, which is powered by AI, found it detected COVID-19 in real-time with excellent accuracy.
Between May 2021 and January 2022, the research team collected breath samples from 170 people who had been tested for COVID. Half had tested positive, half negative.
When compared with PCR results, the breathalyzer got it right 85% of the time. For medical diagnostics, accuracy of 80% or greater is considered “excellent”.
The breathalyzer is made up of a complex construction of lasers and mirrors. The breath sample is piped in as lasers fire invisible mid-infrared light at it at thousands of different frequencies.
Because each kind of molecule absorbs light differently, breath samples with a different molecular make-up cast distinct shadows.
The machine interprets these shadows and can determine – in the case of COVID – whether the sample is positive or negative.
The team is now looking at a range of other diseases in the hope the breathalyzer could revolutionize medical diagnostics.