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Coronavirus breathalyzer

Breathe and wait five 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. So why aren’t we there yet?

Widespread, daily testing is essential for assessing the spread of the 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 breathalyzer, imec aims to remedy those shortcomings and introduce fast, easy and accurate identification of COVID-19 spreaders.

Watch the talk by imec expert Peter Peumans on how chip technologies can help the fight against COVID-19.

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 a two-day 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 5 minutes

Imec leverages silicon chip technology to develop a new testing approach. We’re working on a breathalyzer that detects COVID-19 viral particles that are contained in aerosols and droplets.  

This solution will consist of:

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

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

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


Impression of imec’s coronavirus breathalyzer

Coronavirus breathalyzer: the timeline

Imec’s coronavirus breathalyzer concept is currently being tested in a clinical study with our partner UZ Leuven. By summer 2021, imec intends to test a functional prototype at Brussels Airport.

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.

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

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