A 3-D printed electronic nose has been developed that ‘sniffs’ Covid in just a few seconds.
The device smells like chemicals on infected people, opening the door to large-scale testing around the world.
Scientists say it could be used in airports, offices, factories and even on football, rugby and cricket fields.
The project leader, Professor Noam Sobel, explained: “The e-nose generates a pattern in every smell: it characterizes the smell of Covid-19.”
Rapid diagnosis is key to controlling the pandemic, Sobel said. It will allow people to attend mass gatherings and travel, as well as return to school or work.
The instrument, called Pen3, has been trained to identify VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in the internal nasal passage, rather than in the breath.
Experiments with 503 people, 27 of whom were later deemed to have COVID-19, found it to be as accurate as 94 percent.
They were recruited from a self-service testing station in Tel Aviv, organized by the Israel Red Cross.
Sobel, from the Weizmann Institute of Sciences in Rehovot, Israel, explained: “Every disease has an odor because it changes metabolic processes. Metabolites have an odor. “
Pen3, which is designed to be 3D printed, has a gas unit and a series of sensors. A sampling valve connected to the software fits perfectly in the nostril.
An electric wheelchair lift lifted it to the window level of each volunteer. They didn’t even have to get out of the car.
Sobel further explained: “When a compound interacts with sensors, this results in an oxygen exchange that leads to a change in electrical conductivity.”
Dogs can also use their noses to catch the scent of Covid, but the scale of the crisis makes them an unrealistic tool, he said.
Those who participated in the initial tests were given the sampling valve and instructed to hold it against a nostril opening for 80 seconds.
They were told to breathe normally, but only through open mouths. They then drove 30 feet to undergo the official COVID-19 PCR test.
“It was a shot in the dark,” Sobel said, “but the payoff will be so great… We got a response in 80 seconds. We are obtaining significant data. In fact, we are measuring the differences between people. We are getting information that can pave the way to a quick diagnosis. “
The peer-reviewed study in PLOS ONE shows that there is a specific COVID-19 “body odor” that is detectable with Pen3.
“Given our current results,” said Sobel, “an optimized ‘eNose’ can provide effective real-time diagnostics at locations such as airports, workplaces and cultural events,” helping to accelerate social and economic recovery. . That is hopeful news.
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