ANCON & the NHS trials 10-minute coronavirus breath test

The NHS is trialling a breath test that could detect the coronavirus in just 10 minutes. The device uses an electronic nose to capture chemicals floating in a person’s breath, and compares them to the biomarkers of the virus.

A trial has begun at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey, which aims to determine whether nanotechnology biomarker tagging can be used to detect Covid-19 infection.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) said it has huge advantages because the results are so quick a person who tests negative “can go back to their normal life straight away”.

The current swab test takes about 72 hours before the results are available, and the person needs to self-isolate during this time in case they test positive.

The breath test is non-invasive and is unlikely to cause any discomfort, as the person is only required to breathe normally into the device.

This study will also review the practicalities of using this test.

“It is quick and easy to train people in how to carry out the test, so it could potentially easily be rolled out to testing sites,” the NIHR said.

The tests would see patients breathing through a mouthpiece for a minute, with analysis being sent to a supercomputer. Patients would also provide a cheek sample.

The device detects crucial chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) in the breath, and compares them to VOC’s discovered in infected patients.

Dr Linda Pomeroy, chief executive of ANCON Medical, which is behind the technology, said a key challenge is finding enough infected people to undergo the test.

“The trial is going very well, but our Covid positive numbers are very, very low. We, like a number of other trials, are struggling to find enough numbers.”

In order to determine the precise pattern of coronavirus VOC’s, and check patients for that pattern in the future, researchers need at least half of the participants in the trial to be infected.

Principal investigator Dr Stephen Winchester, consultant in medical virology at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As the coronavirus pandemic develops, it’s clear that our response should be long term and pre-emptive, and advances in research, diagnosis, treatment and technology will be absolutely key to managing future outbreaks and protecting communities.”

The test may significantly boost the rapid diagnosis and management of patients presenting with acute symptoms, he said.

“It has the potential to provide an improved experience for patients and aid clinical decision-making.

“It’s a great example of the fields of technology and medical science working closely together and the Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals’ team are very excited to be part of this potentially groundbreaking project.”

Read original article in SUNDAY TIMES here.

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