Breath sensor to detect flu virus

Credit: University of Texas at Arlington.

Professor Perena Gouma of the Materials Science and Engineering Department, University of Texas, has invented a hand-held breath monitor to detect flu virus, an article published in Sensors in January 2017 claims. The device, similar to breathalyzers employed by police officers when testing drivers’ breath for alcohol, employs semiconductor sensors to detect the flu virus once the patient exhales into it.

According to the research, the sensors are gas-specific and inexpensive, and can isolate biomarkers associated with the flu virus to indicate whether or not the patient has flu. Eventually, the device would be available in drugstores for people to diagnose and treat flu in its earliest stages, helping prevent flu epidemics from spreading and hence protecting both individual and public health.

“I think technology like this will revolutionize personalized diagnostics. It will allow people to be proactive and detect illnesses early, and the technology can easily be used to detect other diseases, such as Ebola virus disease, simply by changing the sensors,” said Gouma, who is also the lead scientist at the Institute for Predictive Performance Measurement at the UTA Research Institute.

She added that prior to the application of nanotechnology to create the breath analyzer device, biomarkers could only be detected in a person’s breath by using expensive, highly technical equipment in a lab, which had to be operated by skilled personnel.

“Now, this technology could be used by ordinary people to quickly and accurately diagnose illness,” she said.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation through the Smart Connected Health program. Based on existing medical literature, Gouma and her team first determined the quantities of known biomarkers present in a person’s breath when afflicted with a particular disease. Using this knowledge, the researchers then developed a combination of sensors for biomarkers to accurately detect flu.

For instance, patients suffering from asthma have increased nitric oxide concentration in their breath, and acetone is a known biomarker for diabetes and metabolic processes. Therefore, using a nitric oxide and an ammonia sensor, the team found that the breath monitor could detect the flu virus as well as tests done in a doctor’s office.

The chair of the Materials Science and Engineering Department, Stathis Meletis, noted the potential impact nanotechnology and the research had on health and human condition in the community. “Dr. Gouma’s development of a portable, single-exhale device that can be used to detect diseases has implications far beyond the laboratory,” Meletis said. “This shows the impact of nanotechnology on our everyday lives, and has potential for applications related to security and other important areas as well.”

More information can be found at: University of Texas at Arlington.

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