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Japanese univ., medical systems firm develop 1st breath-based virus testing technology

A device that detects the presence of the coronavirus from aspirated air is seen in Sendai's Aoba Ward, on Oct. 16, 2020. (Mainichi/Daisuke Wada)

SENDAI -- A method to detect the presence of the coronavirus in exhaled breath has been developed jointly by Tohoku University here in Sendai and Kyoto-based Shimadzu Corp., the two organizations announced on Oct. 16.

    The two groups say it's the world's first technology that uses a method of analyzing viruses and proteins that exist in aspirated air. Not only does it have the same precision as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, the results come out in about an hour, and the test can even diagnose the risks of a person's condition becoming dire.

    The developers of the technology plan to work on creating a smaller version of the device to make it possible for use at home, as well as to go forward with clinical trials to make the practical application of the method a reality.

    This testing method uses the latest technology called "breathomics." It entails collecting exhaled breath for approximately five minutes, and putting that through an analytical device.

    In addition to predicting the severity of the testing subject's symptoms and their symptoms of pneumonia, it can test for viruses other than the coronavirus. Researchers are aiming to use the technology to diagnose lifestyle-related diseases and cancer, as well as for remote medical care, by expanding applications of the analysis of health information that can be derived from exhaled breath.

    The PCR test, which involves taking samples of mucous membrane from the back of the nose, takes time and effort. Professor Takaaki Akaike at Tohoku University, who is a part of the joint project with Shimadzu Corp., explained, "If the technology to take fine-particle aerosols from the breath as an analysis subject to screen for the coronavirus is successful, it will be the first such technology in the world."

    Shimadzu Corp. President Teruhisa Ueda commented, "We would like to complete the basic technology in about a year."

    (Japanese original by Issei Takizawa, Sendai Bureau)

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