Scientists at the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder have developed a groundbreaking laser-based breathalyser test that utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) to detect COVID-19 with remarkable accuracy in real-time. This new technology, known as the frequency comb breathalyser, has the potential to revolutionize medical diagnostics.
The research team, led by Qizhong Liang, a PhD candidate at CU Boulder, conducted extensive studies on 170 CU Boulder students between May 2021 and January 2022. These students had recently undergone polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, with half testing positive for COVID-19 and half testing negative. The breath samples were collected and analyzed using the frequency comb breathalyser, and the results were compared to the PCR tests.
The breathalyser test demonstrated an impressive 85% accuracy rate when compared to the gold standard PCR test. In medical diagnostics, an accuracy rate of 80% or higher is considered excellent. The researchers believe that the accuracy would have been even higher if the breath samples had been collected simultaneously with the saliva or nasal swab samples.
One of the key advantages of the breathalyser test is its non-invasive nature. Unlike nasal swabs, which can be uncomfortable and intrusive, the breathalyser simply requires individuals to blow into a mouthpiece. Additionally, users are not required to refrain from eating, drinking, or smoking prior to the test, unlike saliva samples.
The breathalyser test operates by using a complex array of lasers and mirrors, about the size of a banquet table. A breath sample is introduced through a tube, and lasers emit invisible mid-infrared light at various frequencies. By analyzing the absorption patterns of the light as it passes through the breath sample, the system can identify distinct molecular compositions, including those associated with COVID-19.
The researchers envision a future where breath analysis becomes a routine part of medical check-ups, similar to measuring height and weight. They also anticipate the development of portable breathalyser devices that could be integrated into smartphones, allowing individuals to monitor their health in real-time.
Further advancements are underway to miniaturize the system into a chip-scale device, enabling convenient and on-the-go self-health monitoring. The breathalyser test holds great promise not only for COVID-19 detection but also for diagnosing a wide range of conditions and diseases, marking a significant step forward in medical diagnostics.