IMEC (Leuven, Belgium) has been given a grant of €2 million by the Flemish government and is teaming up with UZ Leuven University Hospital for clinical validation of its approach. IMEC intends to test a functional prototype at Brussels Airport in the summer of 2021.
The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is accurate in determining if someone has the virus but at present requires an uncomfortable nasopharygeal process for collecting a sample and comes with a laboratory processing time of about two days. Other tests can be easier to conduct but can be less accurate.
By testing exhaled air IMEC tests not only whether someone has the virus but also how likely they are to be contagious. Droplets from exhaled breath are thought to be the virus's main transmission method. Peter Peumans, CTO of Health Technologies at IMEC said the test is being designed to cope flexibly with other viruses that spread by the same method, such as influenza, respiratory synctycial virus (RSV) and tuberculosis.
"SARS-CoV-2 testing via breath sample coupled with an ultrafast molecular analysis would be game-changing since it would allow for the timely detection of individuals who are most likely to transmit the virus," said Peter Piot, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in a statement issued by IMEC.
IMEC's solution consists of an aerosol sample collector and molecular analysis unit that can perform the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. The microfluidic MEMS allows for thousands of cavities in which to capture viral particles and testing time has been reduced from 50 minutes to 5 minutes.
"In anticipation of other investors joining this effort, IMEC has decided to pre-invest the necessary resources as part of our contribution to the global fight against Covid-19," said Luc Van den hove, CEO of IMEC, in a statement.
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