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Coronavirus breath sampler

Breathe and wait no more than 18 minutes for an accurate result. That’s the experience that imec aims for with its COVID-19 testing tool.

Testing, testing, testing. From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been clear what’s one of the most effective routes towards a normal life.

Widespread, daily testing is essential for assessing the spread of a pandemic. And by quickly identifying and isolating contagious colleagues, customers, concert-goers, ... we should be able to limit its economic and social impact.

But especially when it comes to that second objective, current testing methods fall short. With its coronavirus breath sampler, imec aims to remedy those shortcomings and introduce fast, easy and accurate identification of viral diseases that are transmitted by exhaled particles.

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Drawbacks of current tests

The novel coronavirus is only contagious for a relatively short period of time – mostly before the patient develops symptoms. That makes it a challenge to identify spreaders of the disease.

Current testing methods can’t adequately ascertain whether someone can pass on the virus:

  • PCR tests are in danger of lagging behind the facts because they typically come with hours or even days of processing time in a clinical lab.
  • Serological tests also come too late because they only detect whether someone has developed antibodies.
  • Rapid antigen tests are not reliable enough.

Current test methods come with other drawbacks as well. The nasal swabs used for PCR and rapid antigen tests are experienced as uncomfortable to say the least. And PCR and serological tests need to be administered by medical personnel.


Current coronavirus testing methods come with many drawbacks.

Test results within 18 minutes

Imec leverages silicon chip technology to develop a new testing approach. We've developed a breath sampler that detects COVID-19 viral particles that are contained in aerosols and droplets.  

This solution consists of:

  • A sample collector that contains the chip that captures the aerosol particles.
  • An analysis unit that measures the amount of viral material through real-time quantitative PCR.

After no more than eighteen minutes, the test results are provided through the cloud.

Explore this article for more details about imec’s coronavirus breath sampler.


A prototype of the proof-of-concept breath sampler.

Coronavirus breath sampler: current status

Imec’s coronavirus breath sampler concept is currently being tested in a clinical study with our partner UZ Leuven.

Because this solution is based on standard chip technology, it’s mass-producible. It can be quickly made accessible in unlimited amounts to fight the human and economic effects of COVID-19 – and of future pandemics that spread via exhaled particles. We're also looking at applications beyond covid, such as other infectious diseases or cancers. 

Want to get involved in this project? Feel free reach out.

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