Perena Gouma, a professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), just created a new device that can tell you if you have the flu after analyzing a single breath. The National Science Foundation funded the research to develop the device, and Professor Gouma’s article on the project was published in the journal Sensors.
The device works much like the breathalyzer a police officer might use to determine drunkenness during a traffic stop. It can detect various biometric indicators that are only present in people infected with the flu virus, including a number of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as well as nitric oxide. In a UTA press release, Gouma said, “I think that technology like this is going to revolutionize personalized diagnostics. This will allow people to be proactive and catch illnesses early, and the technology can easily be used to detect other diseases, such as Ebola virus disease, simply by changing the sensors.”
Gouma’s device could easily become a fixture of pharmacies everywhere, giving people the ability to detect influenza infection sooner and thus making it easier to treat. But perhaps even more important are the potential applications for the device outside of the developed world. The low cost and ease of adapting the technology for other viruses could make it an invaluable tool to help catch dangerous viruses before they explode into full-blown epidemics.
“Before we applied nanotechnology to create this device, the only way to detect biomarkers in a person’s breath was through very expensive, highly-technical equipment in a lab, operated by skilled personnel,” says Gouma. “Now, this technology could be used by ordinary people to quickly and accurately diagnose illness.”
Time is a very delicate commodity in the early stages of an epidemic, and this new device could be a game-changing addition to the arsenal of doctors across the globe.