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Ceiling-mounted sensor can ‘smell’ Covid-19 on infected people

A ceiling-mounted device has been developed that can detect whether people in the room have Covid-19 within 15 minutes, scientists say.

Led by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the biotech company RoboScientific with Durham University, the study tested devices with organic semiconductor (OSC) sensors that could potentially be used as a Covid-19 screening tool.

They envision it being used in public areas, such as on commercial aircraft, where the risk of transmitting the disease may be high.

The team found that Covid-19 infection has a distinct odor, due to changes in the volatile organic compounds (VOC) that make up body odor, generating an odor fingerprint that the sensors can detect.

This study used body odor samples from socks worn by 54 individuals and donated to the team – 27 Covid-19 positive individuals who were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms, and 27 uninfected individuals.

These samples were analyzed by RoboScientific’s Model 307B VOC analyzer equipped with an array of 12 OSC sensors. The OSC sensors captured the odor profile of the samples, after they were tuned to be sensitive to the VOCs associated with Covid-19 infection, mainly ketone and aldehyde compounds.

After two days of testing the samples, the researchers found that the sensors could distinguish between infected and uninfected samples. Based on early testing, they believe the device can detect the presence of Covid-19 infection more accurately than any other diagnostic test available.

Professor James Logan, head of the disease control division at LSHTM, who led the study, said: “These results are really promising and demonstrate the potential to use this technology as a rapid, non-invasive test with incredible accuracy. However, there are further testing is needed to confirm whether these results can be replicated in the real world.

“If these devices are successfully developed for use in public places, they could be affordably and easily scaled up. They could also protect people from future disease outbreaks.” , with the ability to develop sensor arrays to detect other diseases within weeks.

” Professor Steve Lindsay, of the Department of Biosciences at the University of Durham, said: “Many diseases have a distinct odor associated with them. We started our research with a blank sheet of paper and asked the question:

Does Covid-19 have a distinct odor? “We ended the study with a clear separation between the odors of people infected with the virus and those of uninfected people. Covid certainly has a very distinct smell.

This is true discovery science and very exciting for the development of disease screening methods.” Cambridgeshire-based start-up RoboScientific is now trying to use the technology to develop a handheld device that can be used for early disease detection and can detect if a person is Covid-19 positive by their body odor.

In May, it was announced that a machine learning algorithm has been developed that can detect which patients with Covid-19 may get worse and not respond positively when placed on their stomach in intensive care units.