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Breath Analysis Sensor Licensed to Detect Covid-19

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(profivideos, Pixabay)

10 Aug. 2020. Discoveries in a university lab that enable detection of Covid-19 infections from a person’s breath are being licensed for development by a biotechnology company. Hoth Therapeutics Inc. in New York is acquiring development rights to a sensor analyzing breath gases, first researched in engineering labs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

The technology is a product of GWU’s Institute for MEMS and VLSI. MEMS stands for micro-electronic mechanical systems, the intersection of mechanical functions with integrated circuits and VLSI is very large scale integration, combining thousands of integrated circuits on a single chip. The institute, led by engineering professor Mona Zaghloul, studies design of chips that adapt chemical and biological sensing to MEMS and VLSI circuits.

Yangyang Zhao, a recent GWU engineering doctorate, working under Zaghloul and with National Institute of Standards and Technology, designed and fabricated nanoscale gas sensors with plasmonic properties, where light waves excite electrons in characteristic patterns, as when detecting the presence of certain biological molecules. The sensor surface is lined with a thin gold film that binds with gas molecules in a person’s breath. When light passes over the sensor, the light reflects in various wavelengths, with SARS-CoV-2 virus or other target molecules bound to the sensor reflected in signature colors.

Jeanne Jordan, professor of epidemiology at GWU’s school of public health recognized the potential for the technology, and worked with the engineers to refine the sensors for quick detection of Covid-19 infections. Those refinements led to a thin sensor coated with a solution that reacts to SARS-CoV-2 viruses in exhaled breath and immediately changes color. The color change can then be captured on a smartphone’s camera and uploaded for analysis in the cloud. No nasal swabs or saliva are needed.

“These are devices,” says Jordan in a Hoth Therapeutics statement, “that a public health professional could go out with into the field to administer point-of-care testing, either at a walk-up center or directly in the community.” Jordan adds, “They’re extremely rapid; the turnaround time to having test results is within minutes, and you do the testing right there instead of having to send your sample to a large commercial laboratory with a massive backlog. That would allow these professionals to say immediately if someone needs to be quarantined, and to get the names of their contacts so they can start contact tracing.”

Hoth Therapeutics develops biological drugs for skin conditions and antibiotics, particularly for stubborn bacterial biofilms that can aggravate skin infections. In March, Hoth formed HaloVax LLC in a joint venture with Voltron Therapeutics to develop a vaccine to protect against Covid-19 infections, based on a technology licensed from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“The immediate diagnosis and ongoing tracking of Covid-19,” notes Hoth CEO Robb Knie, “is a critical initiative towards mitigating the ongoing spread of Covid-19.  This device, which is under development, would allow users to conduct widespread testing and provide instantaneous results through the administration of a breath sample and tracking through a mobile device.”

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