This is to determine the presence of the virus, not that of antibodies.
Specialized in the analysis of odors using algorithms, the NanoScent company based in Misgav, in northern Israel, has developed a test reminiscent of breathalysers, with the difference that it is necessary to breathe out through the nose and not through the mouth.
You must first breathe in through your nose, hold your breath, plug one nostril and place a tube in the other nostril. Then breathe out into the nasal nozzle, inserted at the other end into a transparent bag.
The nasal tube is then plugged into a small rectangular device – connected to a cell phone – which hums gently as it sucks air out of the sachet.
In a few seconds, the result appears on the phone: “COVID-19 negative”, he said during an AFP visit to the NanoScent laboratories.
When the new coronavirus began to spread around the world, the Israeli company wondered how to put its innovations at the service of the fight against the pandemic. A large part of its activity is now linked to the health crisis.
She analyzed the breath of a thousand infected Israelis and then identified odors specific to carriers of the virus.
“We can detect who is, or could, be infected with the virus,” said Oren Gavriely, CEO of NanoScent.
Ongoing tests in Israel have given results in the region of 85% accuracy. The technology, which could receive marketing authorization within a few months, is currently being tested as part of a pilot project in Europe, he told AFP.
– “Security feeling” –
This technology seems “very promising”, said Nadav Davidovitch, director of the school of public health at Ben-Gurion University in Beer Sheva (south).
A researcher from the company NanoScent shows the use of the test for the new coronavirus, in Misgav on July 21, 2020 (AFP / MENAHEM KAHANA)
If the test kit receives the green light from authorities and is not used as a substitute for tests conducted by certified laboratories, “I am completely in favor” of the product, he told the AFP.
For NanoScent, this olfactory test should not replace those performed in the laboratory.
The objective is rather to be able to use it at the entrance to theaters, stadiums, hospitals or even in airports. If the result is positive, then people should do a lab test to confirm or deny the diagnosis.
The advantage of the kit, besides the speed of obtaining the result, is its “tiny price compared to the test carried out in a laboratory”, noted Mr. Gavriely.
The project received support from the Research and Development Department at the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
This test could “change the situation”, noted Daniel Gold, head of this department.
Israel boasted until recently about its management of the pandemic but the number of new patients has started to rise again as the deconfinement progresses. The government is now being criticized for its approach and for the resulting economic difficulties.
The country of some nine million inhabitants has recorded more than 56,700 cases of contamination, including 430 deaths, according to the latest official report.
Up to 1,000 new cases per day have been recorded in recent weeks. There were even 2,000 on Wednesday.
In this context, Mr. Gavriely hopes that his test can be used for a screening of magnitude “allowing us to find a feeling of security in order to resume a normal life”.