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Covid-19: breath screening possible “by next spring”


A team of French researchers has developed a technique for detecting the virus by the breath of patients. Quick and inexpensive, this concept could be used in places with high public traffic.

As the end of the year holidays approach, many French people, even asymptomatic, dream of being able to be tested in a few minutes before meeting their family, going shopping in a shopping center or traveling in order to know if they are carriers of Covid-19. “It will soon be possible», Answers Professor Djillali Annane, head of the intensive medicine and resuscitation service at Raymond Poincaré hospital in Garches. With the team of Professor Stanislas Grassin-Delyle, pharmacologist at the Foch Hospital in Paris, they developed a screening prototype based on the odor left by the virus in sick patients by analyzing their breath.

For several days, the teams of the two researchers collected and then stored the breaths of around forty patients in intensive care. “An incredible amount of data, says Djillali Annane, which once analyzed have made it possible to define an olfactory identity of the virus ”. By comparing with scent from patients with other severe respiratory diseases such as staphylococcus or burns after a fire, the scientists established, thanks to a mass spectrometer, a list of unique molecules left by Covid-19 in the body. human. “This is not the first time that science has taken an interest in the odors left by a virus», Testifies the Parisian department head. Indeed, this technique has already been proven for tuberculosis and certain cancers such as breast, lung or prostate. It has even been under study since March to detect people with Covid-19 using sniffer dogs. Once the olfactory identity has been defined, how can we massively screen the population and thus better ensure the triptych “test, alert, isolateTo limit the spread of the virus?

A Covid-19 breathalyzer

Unlike Professors Grandjean and Choquet who rely on the particularly developed flair of dogs, Professor Djillali Annane wishes to develop “an electronic nose“. The idea is simple: it will suffice to blow into a small tool resembling a breathalyzer. The latter will indicate whether the person, even without symptoms, is a carrier or not of molecules specific to Covid-19 and therefore of the virus. If it is tested positive, it will be able to isolate itself quickly and thus break the chains of contamination.

Unlike PCR tests which are sometimes long and expensive, “Covid breathalyzers»Can be done in two minutes and will cost no more than ten euros, according to the Parisian department head. Convinced of their long-term usefulness “because the virus will not go away, even with the vaccine», Professor Djillali Annane adds that they could be useful«in densely populated places such as shopping centers, train stations, subways and airports“. However, the research team is still cautious. “We are at the intermediate stage, the machine used is too expensive. “ Based on the publication of their work in the scientific journal eBioMedicine, part of the group Tea Lancet, the teams of professors Annane and Grassin-Delyle have launched a fundraising campaign with the French National Research Agency. If it proves sufficient, the “Covid breathalyzers“Can be tested and then validated by the health authorities”by next spring“.

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