Rutgers researchers are developing a rapid breathalyzer test that would determine in minutes if someone is infected with COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses.

“In addition to helping diagnose COVID-19, the goal of the project is to create a platform that can be expanded into a future, easy-to-use, non-invasive rapid breathalyzer to diagnostic respiratory diseases, including possible future pandemics,” said principal investigator Edward DeMauro, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering who runs the Emil Buehler Supersonic Wind Tunnel.

The breathalyzer will collect exhaled aerosol particles, deposit the particles into an electronic biosensor, and give a quick result without the need for an uncomfortable swab test. A prototype of the device will also be able to detect several different respiratory viruses, infections, or illnesses.

Researchers – DeMauro, German Drazer, Hao Lin and Mehdi Javanmard who received a two-year $443,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics program – say that the new device would allow for the reopening of large venues because results should be available within 10 minutes.

“I have a 4-year-old daughter and I can get her to breathe into a device like the one we are developing,” said DeMauro. “There are plenty of existing tests, including Rutgers’ saliva tests that are also minimally invasive. And for reopening large venues, we also want to get results quickly at the point of administration.”

The breathalyzer will use a senor-type technology created at Rutgers by Mehdi Javanmard, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, that would capture aerosol particles from exhaled breath.

“These would be the droplets present in a person’s breath that can infect other people,” said co-PI German Drazer, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Rutgers School of Engineering.

Rutgers researchers are basing the development of the new breathalyzer on the device that now collects and removes samples of industrial contaminants from the air. This filter, in conjunction with the new electronic sensor being developed for detecting different types of proteins in bodily fluids, would be able to detect the coronavirus.

“It is an excellent technology with a huge potential when it comes to the market,” said Pragati Sharma, Rutgers HealthAdvance™ Fund manager. “This opportunity would not be available to Rutgers principal investigators had it not been for the NIH REACH initiative, which is a co-sponsor of HealthAdvance.”

HealthAdvance Fund is the funding platform of Rutgers Optimizes Innovation (ROI) program, which supports the development of innovative technologies with an impact on human health by providing financial support as well as engaging expert consultants to help guide innovators through the process of commercialization of their research.

The ROI program was established with a $4 million grant received in 2019 under the NIH Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub (REACH) with the goal of energizing the innovation culture across all university campuses to speed up the translation of biomedical discoveries into commercially viable diagnostics, devices, therapeutics, and tools to improve health and patient care, and to also train a new generation of innovators.

“As mechanical and aerospace engineers, we often work on products that not necessarily see the immediate light of day and we don’t necessarily have the opportunity to help people directly, like our own children, disabled people or the average persons like my mother who have had to sit at home during the pandemic.” said DeMauro. “This award allows us to work on a product that will help improve people’s lives and bring us closer to resuming our normal activities.”