The group from Northumbria University, Newcastle, have said, while further testing is needed, the test could be used globally. It is hoped the technology could be used to screen people in airports as they cross the globe. And it could also be used in GP surgeries, ambulances and pharmacies to provide an instant result.
The test is able to spot biomarkers – biological information – through breath.
These biomarkers include DNA, protein molecules and RNA, which can highlight respiratory diseases.
People being tested would simply be required to breathe into the device and the results would be provided almost instantaneously.
The device is being compared to a breathalyser – used by the police to detect alcohol and drugs.
Current tests for coronavirus involve using a cheek swab.
The DNA collected in this process is sent off to a Public Health England lab and the results are returned between 24 to 48 hours later.
Dr Sterghios Moschos, associate professor at Northumbria University, said: “Our ambition is to reduce the need for bloodletting for diagnosis in its broadest sense.
“In the case of coronavirus, temperature monitoring in airports is not sufficient.
“The World Health Organisation currently recommends testing nasal swabs, oral swabs and swabs from inside the lungs to avoid missing the infection.
“That’s why it’s vital that we develop non-invasive, quick and cost-effective tests for diagnosis and screening.”
Breath sampling has been used before, however there were concerns this method was not reliable enough.
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This is because of issues of contamination and other variability matters in analysis of breath.
The new development by the Northumbria team has circumvented the issue, to make sure collected data matches results from surgical lung samples.
Current airport procedures involve people who arrive from certain countries, including South Korea, China and Japan, have been asked if they have health complaints.
However, this is not a fail-safe method, as many people have not exhibited symptoms of the virus.
Professor George Marston, pro vice-chancellor for research and innovation at Northumbria University said: “The team have ambitions for the technology to replace invasive venous and respiratory sampling tests where possible, particularly for older and younger patients where needles and invasive tests can be uncomfortable or something not possible.
“We need new medical tools that diagnose disease and monitor health more quickly, and this device is one of those technologies.”
Cases in the UK have recently risen from 51 to 53, with two more cases confirmed in Scotland.
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, has said there is now transmission between people in the UK – but only two cases of this nature have been identified so far.
Professor Whitty has said the NHS could potentially come under “very high pressure” in an epidemic, with “difficult” weeks for the health service and society at large.
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