Tech Transfer eNews Blog

Researchers at Brown and Rhode Island Hospital develop COVID-19 breathalyzer test

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: January 11th, 2022

A team of researchers from Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital have developed a new test that can detect COVID-19 from the user’s breath.

The “Bubbler” test forgoes the traditional swab for a less invasive approach that reverse-transcribes RNA from exhaled airborne SARS-CoV-2 particles into DNA. The technology can also barcode that DNA, allowing each sample to be linked directly to the patient it came from and to be used for sequencing.

“The Bubbler is more likely to be a better indicator of current infection than nasopharyngeal swabs,” says lead investigator William G. Fairbrother, a professor at Brown. In addition, he says, “involvement of the lower respiratory tract is often a precursor to severe COVID-19, so there is an argument for a more direct sampling focused on exhaled breath.”

While swab-based PCR tests are similar to the Bubbler in terms of their ability to detect the virus, they target the same RNA fragments found in previously infected cells, meaning that a PCR test can return a positive result months after infection. By contrast, the Bubbler only detects airborne particles, which indicate active infection.

According to the researchers, the Bubbler can be adapted for screening in hospitals, transportation hubs, offices and other crowded indoor environments.

Source: News from Brown

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