UK firm creates monitor that detects COVID-19 in 15 minutes

LONDON: A team of British scientists has created a monitor that can detect COVID-19 infections in a room within 15 minutes. The ceiling-mounted “Covid alarm,” created by Cambridge-based developer Roboscientific, detects chemicals secreted by the skin or found on the breath of people with the virus called “volatile organic compounds,” which scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Durham University said creates an “odor fingerprint” that could be identified by the device with 98-100 percent accuracy. The scientists, whose work has yet to be peer-reviewed, stressed that more studies are needed, but initial analysis from 54 samples has been enough to prompt funding interest in further testing from the UK Department of Health and Social Care.

The monitor can apparently differentiate between COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases, and can even detect the virus accurately in asymptomatic people, making it even more accurate than polymerase chain reaction tests. The breakthrough could prove invaluable in the future of testing for COVID-19, and with modification, for other diseases as well. The device can be installed in all sorts of environments, from schools to hospitals and aircraft cabins, and can send results instantly to computers and mobile phones.

At GBP5,000 (£7,050) per monitor, it may also prove more economically viable than frequent disposable testing. Prof. James Logan, head of the Department of Disease Control at LSHTM, said trials could be completed by the end of 2021.

“The fact that devices already exist that we can use will really speed this up. These results are really promising, and demonstrate the potential for using this technology as a rapid, non-invasive test with incredible accuracy,” he added. “If these devices are successfully developed for use in public places, they could be affordably and easily scaled up.”

Roboscientific, which is also developing a handheld monitor for use on individuals and with a results turnaround time of just two minutes, first developed the technology six years ago to detect infections in farm animals.

It proved so accurate that it was able to detect single cases of salmonella or campylobacter in chicken barns of up to 50,000 birds.