This is another example of technology companies working to develop medical laboratory testing that consumers can use without requiring a doctor’s order for the test

Here’s new technology that could be a gamechanger in the fight against COVID-19 if further research allows it to be used in patient care. The goal of the researchers involved is to enable individuals to test for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus from home with the assistance of a smartphone app enhanced by artificial intelligence (AI).

Such an approach could bypass clinical laboratories by allowing potentially infected people to confirm their exposure to the coronavirus and then consult directly with healthcare providers for diagnosis and treatment.

The at-home test is being developed through a partnership between French pharmaceutical company Sanofi and San Jose, Calif.-based Luminostics, creator of a smartphone-based diagnostic platform that “can detect or measure bacteria, viruses, proteins, and hormones from swabs, saliva, urine, and blood,” according to the company’s website.

Users who wish to self-test collect a specimen from their nose via a swab and then insert that swab into a device attached to a smartphone. The device uses chemicals and nanoparticles to examine the collected sample. If the individual has the virus, the nanoparticles in the specimen glow in a way visible to smartphone cameras. The device generates data and AI in the smartphone app processes a report. The app informs the user of the results of this COVID-19 test, and it also enables the user to connect to a doctor directly through telehealth video conferencing to discuss a diagnosis. 

“This partnering project could lead to another important milestone in Sanofi’s fight against COVID-19,” said Alan Main, Sanofi’s Executive Vice President, Consumer Healthcare, and Chair of the Global Self-Care Federation, in a press release. “The development of a self-testing solution with Luminostics could help provide clarity to individuals—in minutes—on whether or not they are infected.” (Photo copyright: Global Self-Care Federation.)

According to the press release, the diagnostic platform is composed of:

  • an iOS/Android app to instruct a user on how to run the test, capture and process data to display test results, and then to connect users with a telehealth service based on the results;
  • a reusable adapter compatible with most types of smartphones; and
  • consumables for specimen collection, preparation, and processing.

The COVID-19 test results are available within 30 minutes or less after collecting the sample, notes the Sanofi press release. Advantages cited for having a fast, over-the-counter (OTC) solution for COVID-19 testing include:

  • easy access and availability;
  • reduced contact with others, which lowers infection risk; and
  • timely decision-making for any necessary treatments.

The two companies plan to have their COVID-19 home-testing application available for the public before the end of the year, subject to government regulatory clearances. They intend to make their OTC solution available through consumer and retail outlets as well as ecommerce sites.

Can Sound Be Used to Diagnose COVID-19?

Another smartphone app under development records the sound of coughs to determine if an individual has contracted COVID-19. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne or EPFL) in Switzerland created the Cough-based COVID-19 Fast Screening Project (Coughvid), which utilizes a mobile application and AI to analyze the sound of a person’s cough to determine if it resembles that of a person infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. 

The inspiration for this project came from doctors who reported that their COVID-19 patients have a cough with a very distinctive sound that differs from other illnesses. The cough associated with COVID-19, according the EPFL website, is a dry cough that has a chirping intake of breath at the end.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that 67.7% of COVID-19 patients exhibit a ‘dry cough,’ meaning that no mucus is produced, unlike the typical ‘wet cough’ that occurs during a cold or allergies. Dry coughs can be distinguished from wet coughs by the sound they produce, which raises the question of whether the analysis of the cough sounds can give some insights about COVID-19. Such cough sounds analysis has proven successful in diagnosing respiratory conditions like pertussis [Whooping Cough], asthma, and pneumonia,” states the EPFL website.

“We have a lot of contact with medical doctors and some of them told us that they usually were able to distinguish, quite well, from the sound of the cough, if patients were probably infected,” Tomas Teijeiro Campo, PhD, Postdoc Researcher with EPFL and one of the Coughvid researchers, told Business Insider.

The Coughvid app is in its early developmental stages and the researchers behind the study are still collecting data to train their AI. To date, the scientists have gathered more than 15,000 cough samples of which 1,000 came from people who had been diagnosed with COVID-19. The app is intended to be used as a tool to help people decide whether to seek out a COVID-19 clinical laboratory test or medical treatment. 

“For now, we have this nice hypothesis. There are other work groups working on more or less the same approach, so we think it has a point,” said Teijeiro Campo. “Soon we will be able to say more clearly if it’s something that’s right for the moment.”

The other scientists involved in developing AI-driven smartphone apps that use sound to diagnose COVID-19 include research teams at Carnegie Mellon University and New York University, according The Wall Street Journal.

With additional research, innovative technologies such as these could change how clinical laboratories interact with diagnosticians and patients during pandemics. And, if proven accurate and efficient, smartphone apps in the diagnosis process could become a standard, potentially altering the path of biological specimens flowing to medical laboratories.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Covid-19: Smartphone-Based Tests to Do at Home

This COVID-19 App Would Listen to Your Cough and Use AI to Predict Whether You Have Coronavirus

Sanofi and Luminostics to Join Forces on Developing Breakthrough COVID-19 Smartphone-based Self-testing Solution