Cleveland Clinic Researching COVID-19 Test That Uses Droplets From Breath

This rapid breath test could get COVID-19 results quicker and easier than the existing swab and saliva test. It is one of two devices that will be studied by Cleveland Clinic researchers. [Thomas Pickens / Astrotech]
This rapid breath test could get COVID-19 results quicker and easier than the existing swab and saliva test. It is one of two devices that will be studied by Cleveland Clinic researchers. [Thomas Pickens / Astrotech]
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Cleveland Clinic researchers hope to develop a new rapid COVID-19 test that could possibly detect the virus from a person's breath.

Breath tests are already used to detect health issues like kidney and liver disease, said Dr. Raed Dweik, chair of Cleveland Clinic’s respiratory institute. Now, researchers will investigate through clinical trials if droplets from breath tests can also be used to test for COVID-19.

Breath tests are less invasive than other types of tests, such as blood and urine tests, and can be taken anywhere, like a breathalyzer, Dweik said.

If proven successful in clinical trials, the tests could get COVID-19 results quicker and easier than the existing swab and saliva tests, he said.

“Even now, the swab isn’t as easy as we would like it to be, and it takes time,” he said, “These advantages of breath testing, we felt, would be ideal for COVID.” 

Other rapid tests, such as the ones that currently use saliva, have had problems with producing false-negative and false-positive results. This is something researchers will be looking at closely in clinical trials of the breath tests, Dweik said.

"Some of the areas we have done, like other diseases like kidney and liver disease, the test was accurate almost 100 percent. In other areas it's more like 70 to 80 percent accuracy. So, it remains to be determined in the COVID testing, what it looks like,” he said.

The Cleveland Clinic research team is partnering with technology company Astrotech, which has developed a new portable breath test, BreathTest-1000™. Researchers are hoping this device can accurately detect COVID-19, Dweik said.

“The nice thing about using this portable device is that it is already being produced and available - so scaling up mass production would be easy once we determine this is the right test and it does what we want to do,” Dweik said.

Researchers will test this new device along with one that is already used in Cleveland Clinic labs to detect health issues, Dweik said.

Patients would breathe into a container that collects the sample, which would then be ran through the machine to determine if COVID-19 is present, he said.

For some diseases, breath tests are able to show more detailed information, Dweik said. Tests for liver disease, he said, can show not only that a patient has it, but what type of liver disease is present.

Researchers will be looking to see if more information than just a positive or negative result can be determined from the COVID-19 breath test, he said. For example, the test might be able to show doctors that COVID-19 has progressed to someone’s lungs, Dweik said.

The study is awaiting approval from review boards.

Researchers are hoping to begin testing patients in clinical trials sometime next year.

 

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