A device under development at Missouri S&T could use breath to detect disease
Missouri University of Science Technology electrical engineering professor Jie Huang developed a device that could detect dangerous gases in the air in 2019.
“We were very proud it worked, but then when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the team wondered if the same technology could be used to detect COVID-19,” Huang said.
Turns out, it couldn’t.
But the research led Huang to start looking at various volatile organic compounds that are found in people’s breath that are indicators of diseases and viruses. The result was a device that can detect ailments, and Huang and his team were granted a U.S. patent for the technology.
“There is significant evidence that shows some diseases, including diabetes and kidney disease, leave certain compounds in our breath,” Huang said. “Our device can detect them.”
Huang said the technology would be used for initial screening and not a final diagnosis. But it could save time and money.
“The most important thing is early detection. If you have some symptoms or something wrong, you breathe into it. And hopefully we got enough data that can suggest you have something, maybe diabetes, then go to see a doctor,” Huang said.
Huang said the device could be used at home, by medical professionals, or even in public places in the event of another widespread health emergency.
“It could help to see if the person just has a runny nose or if there is something more. Then a doctor could do a golden standard PCR test,” Huang said. “The device can be easily cleaned, and then you can reuse it.”
Huang said man’s best friend is a big inspiration for the technology.
“Dogs can be trained to sniff out some kinds of diseases, because their sense of smell is that good,” Huang said. “Our device works on many of the same principles. We are definitely trying to replicate what a dog can do.”
Huang said the next step is to try to get funding for a full-scale clinical trial for the device. The National Institutes of Health previously supported Huang’s research with approximately $1 million in funding, and he is hopeful the organization will soon be on board to fund the clinical trials as well.
Huang is also working with manufacturers on ways to make the sensor and make it cost effective.
Huang projects that if mass produced, it could cost less than $1,000 per device.