Loughborough research shows potential for Covid-19 diagnosis via breath test

The breath test provides an almost instant result


The Lancet recently published a new study led by Loughborough University demonstrating that with the use of the non-invasive breath test they were able to identify candidate biomarkers which are present in the breath of someone affected by Covid-19. The research team were able to demonstrate how these identifiers can be used to rapidly distinguish Covid-19 from other respiratory conditions at a critical point of need (i.e. At the hospital, care home or workplace) without laboratory support.

In the recent study, patients gave a single-breath sample. Of 98 patients, 31 were found to have Covid-19. Additionally, the test resulted in other diagnoses including asthma, exacerbation of asthma and COPD, viral pneumonia, other respiratory tract infections, and cardiac conditions.

In order to identify and diagnose Covid-19 from the samples the team used two procedures for analysis of VOC: Gas Chromatography (GC), a procedure used for separating and analysing compounds that can be vaporized without decomposition and Ion Mobility Spectrometry (IMS), an analytical technique used to separate and identify ionized molecules in the gas phase. This analysis identified certain aldehydes, ketones, and methanol that discriminated COVID-19 from other conditions.

Ultimately, this breakthrough can lead to beneficial advances in the testing process of Covid-19 as currently, detection tests are incredibly invasive which can be uncomfortable and off-putting, for individuals which may discourage them to get a test. Additionally, the results gained from this testing process can be produced more rapidly, giving the ability to improve the future efficiency of the testing procedure.

The research team was built up of partners at the IMSPEX Group – Ion Mobility Spectrometry (IMS) specialists with offices in Wales and Germany – as well as the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and Germany’s Klinikum Dortmund Hospital. Their breakthrough came after the utilisation of technologies which had been previously developed by G.A.S.GmbH as part of the TOXI-Triage project.

There are current intentions for IMSPEX diagnostics to work with researchers in order to help develop and scale such technology; benefitting from their current capabilities and knowledge with the success of their BreathSpec device– a key tool designed for the analysis of VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) metabolic profiles in human breath. Santi Dominguez, CEO of the IMSPEX Group, stated: “The IMSPEX Group is very pleased that our ground-breaking technology has delivered these exciting results…. What will be needed now will be to rapidly acquire more data to continue to develop the test, and institutional and investor support to scale our manufacturing capability. The IMSPEX Group is looking forward to this challenge.”

Paul Thomas,Professor of Analytical Science from Loughborough’s Department of Chemistry, commented on the feasibility of the study: “We are hugely encouraged by these findings. Employing tried and tested techniques used during the TOXI-Triage project, suggests that Covid-19 may be rapidly distinguished from other respiratory conditions.

“To develop this technique further larger studies are required…If shown to be reliable, it offers the possibility for rapid identification or exclusion of Covid-19 in emergency departments or primary care that will protect healthcare staff, improve the management of patients and reduce the spread of Covid-19.”