Dubai: Dubai is carrying out a trial to assess the accuracy of an easy-to-use breath test to detect COVID-19 within one minute.
In the test, a person only needs to blow into a disposable mouthpiece connected to a high-precision breath sampler. The exhaled breath is collected into a breath sampler and fed into a mass spectrometer for measurement. A machine learning software analyses the volatile organic compound (VOC) profile and generates the result in less than a minute.
The joint clinical trial is being undertaken by Mohammad Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU), Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and Breathonix Pte Ltd.
The trials are being conducted at DHA’s Nadd Al Hamar primary health care centre for 2,500 patients.
Breathonix, a spin-off company from the National University of Singapore (NUS), has developed this test. The company previously conducted a Singapore-based pilot study that involved 180 patients and achieved a sensitivity of 93 per cent and specificity of 95 per cent with machine learning algorithm.
Dr Hussain Al Samt, Director of Pathology and Genetics Department, DHA, said: “In line with the vision of the leadership of the UAE, DHA is keen to foster medical research and innovation. We have collaborated with national and international institutes in the field of research and innovation particularly for COVID-19 to implement path-breaking technologies, which can drastically improve diagnostics and care for COVID-19 patients. This technology is certainly very promising particularly because the speed of diagnosis is just 60 seconds per patient. This kind of rapid diagnosis has a potential to be a game-changer in the global fight against COVID-19.”
Reducing burden and time
Dr Nada Al Mulla, director of DHA’s Nadd Al Hamar Primary Healthcare Sector, said: “If approved and implemented, this technology will significantly reduce the burden on laboratory processing. It will drastically reduce the time taken to get the results in comparison to the presently available testing methods such as a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test. The breath test for screening COVID-19 is highly efficient for mass screening especially in areas of high-traffic.”
Dr Hanan Al Suwaidi, lead investigator of the study, and head of the testing stream in Dubai’s COVID19 Command and Control Centre, and assistant professor of family medicine, MBRU, said: “MBRU has been a catalyst in the region in the field of medical research and innovation; we have been conducting impactful research particularly with regard to COVID-19 and we have collaborated with national as well as international organisations to conduct our research. Before this, we conducted a study on the accuracy of saliva testing for COVID-19 for children and post the research; the technology was implemented across certain DHA centres. The world has seen how medical research, innovation and technology have helped in the global fight against COVID-19. We are keen to further strengthen research in the field of tech-transfer as technology has the potential to radically improve health care processes, health care management and most importantly patient outcomes.”
A marker for COVID-19
Dr Jia Zhunan, Co-Founder and CEO, Breathonix, said: “before this collaboration, Breathonix completed an initial clinical trial with the National Centre of Infectious Diseases (NCID) in Singapore … The breath analysis technology that we have developed offers a fast and convenient solution to identify COVID-19 infection. It works by detecting Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) present in a person’s exhaled breath. VOCs are consistently produced by various biochemical reactions in human cells. Different diseases cause specific changes to the compounds, resulting in detectable changes in a person’s breath profile. As such, VOCs can be measured as markers for diseases like COVID-19.”
Du Fang, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, Breathonix, said: “The breath test is non-invasive and is unlikely to cause any discomfort, as the person is only required to breathe out normally into the device. It is also quick and easy to train people on how to carry out the test, so it can be easily rolled out to testing sites.”
Wayne Wee, Co-founder and Head of Business Development, Breathonix, said: “We are proud to have partnered with MBRU and DHA to conduct a clinical trial for non-invasive, rapid COVID-19 breath test. Breathonix would also like to extend our gratitude to Emirates Airline for providing world-class services and sponsoring expedited transportation of Breathonix’s breath test system to support the clinical trial in Dubai.”
MBRU and DHA also extended their appreciation to Emirates Airline for providing all necessary support to transport the breath test system from Singapore to Dubai.
MBRU, DHA and Breathonix also expressed their gratitude to Low Pit Chen, Consul General of the Republic of Singapore in Dubai, for his support.
Adel Al Redha, Emirates’ Chief Operating Officer said: “An accurate, rapid, and non-invasive solution for COVID-19 testing will hugely benefit the reopening of international travel and other economic activity. Emirates is glad to have been able to help transport Breathonix’s breath test system for this important study, and support Dubai in seeking and implementing innovative and effective approaches to managing the pandemic.”
Professor Freddy Boey, NUS Deputy President (Innovation and Enterprise), said: “Since the advent of the pandemic, mass testing is being widely adopted as a key public health strategy for the detection and prevention of COVID-19 infections. NUS is proud of our deep-tech start-up Breathonix for stepping forward at this time of need, with the agility to turn their cancer detection technology into one that can be used to screen for the coronavirus. I am confident that the deployment of their real-time diagnostic system will be an asset to countries that are progressively emerging from lockdowns and reopening their economies.”
How it works
1. Exhale into disposable mouthpiece
The user exhales into a disposable one-way valve mouthpiece.
2. Real-time analysis
The breath test system measures and analyses VOCs (volatile organic compounds) biomarkers in the breath sample.
3. Fast results
The whole process of breath collection to diagnosis takes less than a minute.