By Christopher Bendana
American and South African scientists are developing a rapid breath test that would detect COVID-19 not only in people with symptoms but also those without symptoms, a milestone in the prevention of the spread.
In a statement released to the press on May 25, US-based Canary Health Technologies and South Africa based Ezintsha research group will collaborate on a ground-breaking trial to develop a rapid breath test for COVID-19 to deliver results on-site in less than five minutes.
Ezintsha research group is a consortium of South African academics and health professionals.
The first human trials will take place in South Africa though trials are also planned for the UK and the United States of America.
The statement reveals that the diagnostic test (COVID19 RT BAP) uses exhaled Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) found in human breath as biomarkers of the virus.
The first phase of the trial will use nanosensors to collect breath samples of COVID-19 positive
Patients. Cloud-based pattern recognition technology will be used to determine if a COVID-19 breath pattern can be established with accuracy.
Asymptomatic COVID-19 patients had been a headache to virologists as they struggle to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
A quick test would also solve the current problems of long delays at Uganda’s borders as truck drivers await results before being allowed in the country.
Truck drivers account for many of Uganda’s new infections. Previously samples were initially taken from the drivers who were allowed to drive inside Uganda until results were available 24 hours later. However, the systems seem to create a lot of loopholes as there are media reports of some drivers hiding.
Recently, the Ugandan government required truck drivers to first obtain their results before admission into the country. Foreign drivers who test positive are sent back to their country of origin while Ugandan drivers returning home would be admitted to designated hospitals for treatment once found to be positive for the virus.
Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, the executive director, Uganda Virus Research Institute where COVID-19 samples are currently being tested said they were hearing of many offers, but they had to first evaluate them.
In praising the clinical trials collaboration Professor Francois Venter, a world-renown infectious diseases expert, and head of Ezintsha, said:
“We are very excited to partner with Canary on this game-changing technology. The Holy Grail is a real-time, point of care device which can capture Volatile Organic Compounds or VOC as biomarkers. This could revolutionize testing for COVID, to then build a base to detect many other diseases. A non-invasive and accurate test that healthcare workers can carry in their pockets is a win-win for all.”
His counterpart Raj Reddy, CEO of Canary Health Technologies was also elated
“We are thrilled to collaborate with Ezintsha which is a world-class research unit focused on health innovations. We are confident that our highly responsive sensors and proprietary software can detect COVID-19 in less than 5 minutes without the need of a lab. This handheld device with disposable sensors is ideal for use in doctors’ offices, nursing homes, airports and should be available before the end of the year. We aim to set the gold standard in COVID detection.”
The initial phase of the trial will see the collection of breath samples from 150 people – both COVID-19 positive patients and those who do not have the virus. They will be asked to breathe for three minutes into the device. The device will then translate their breath biomarkers into electronic signals which will be transmitted to a centralized “lab in the cloud” for analysis. The human trial is due to start in South Africa by the end of June. Preliminary results are expected end of July.
Canary Health Technologies says it used similar nanosensors and AI-powered technology in a human trial to detect lung cancer which showed high sensitivity and specificity
Canary Health Technologies says it will seek to move quickly into a pivotal trial with a larger sample size for expedited regulatory approval with the US FDA and other markets, for global use if this initial phase of the human trial is successful. A team of Israeli scientists also recently announced a similar test kit capable of delivering results within one minute. It is not yet know when such kits will be available for global use.