The handheld device resembles a breathalyzer but can screen for signs of COVID-19 infection in an individual. The sensor, which SOTECH says works in less than 30 seconds, was developed by Dr. Shalini Prasad from the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.
The breath test doesn’t recognize actual COVID-19 virus particles, SOTECH says, but rather the trademark immune system response to the virus.
SOTECH officials state the device will alert a person if they are showing signs of infection, which can be helpful for those who are asymptomatic. A molecular PCR test would be required afterward to confirm whether or not the person has the COVID-19 virus present in their system.
Prasad says that the technology is used to identify “volatile organic compounds” in someone’s breath, and certain chemicals detected can be markers of infection.
“The sensor technology locks in to the target chemical species, causing an electrochemical reaction. The device breaks it down, which releases electrons, which in turn produce a current at a particular voltage. It’s like you’re turning a dial through radio stations,” she explained.
The test was originally a collaboration between Prasad and SOTECH founder Craig Micklich, a former U.S. Navy Seal. Micklich wanted to engineer a device that could detect chemical explosives, which uses the same volatile compounds concept as the current COVID-19 breath test.
The team stated that by changing the chemicals present on the device’s sensor, it has been capable of detecting THC levels in someone’s breath or carbon monoxide present in an area.
Micklich and Prasad’s technology has been through over 29,000 trials, with a 98.9% level of sensitivity, Dallas News writes. Physician Dr. Sophia Koo says the device also boasts a very high negative predictive value of 97.3%, which means it can accurately tell if someone does not have COVID-19.
Although more testing is required, the team at UT Dallas and SOTECH are hopeful about its potential applications out in public.