News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel
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Breath Sample Is Used by Opteev Technologies’ Combined COVID/Influenza/RSV Screening Device with 95% Sensitivity and 90% Specificity

Clinical laboratories and point-of-care settings may have a new diagnostic test if this novel handheld device and related technology is validated by clinical trials

Efforts to develop breath analyzers that accurately identify viral infections, such as SARS-CoV-2 and Influenza, have been ongoing for years. The latest example is ViraWarn from Opteev Technologies in Baltimore, Maryland, and its success could lead to more follow-up PCR tests performed at clinical laboratories.

ViraWarn is a pocket-size breath analyzer that detects COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in about a minute, according to an Opteev news release. The technology company just submitted ViraWarn to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Pre-Emergency Use Authorization (Pre-EUA).

“Breath is one of the most appealing non-invasive sample types for diagnosis of infectious and non-infectious disease,” said Opteev in its FDA Pre-EUA application. “Exhaled breath is very easy to provide and is less prone to user errors. Breath contains a number of biomarkers associated with different ailments that include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), viruses, bacteria, antigens, and nucleic acid.”

Further clinical trials and the FDA Pre-EUA are needed before ViraWarn can be made available to consumers. In the meantime, Opteev announced that the CES (Consumer Electronic Show) had named ViraWarn as a 2023 Innovation Award Honoree in the digital health category. 

Conrad Bessemer

“ViraWarn is designed to allow users an ultra-fast and convenient way to know if they are spreading a dangerous respiratory virus. With a continued increase in COVID-19 and a new surge in RSV and influenza cases, we’re eager to bring ViraWarn to market so consumers can easily blow into a personal device and find out if they are positive or negative,” said Conrad Bessemer (above), Opteev President and Co-Founder, in a news release.

Opteev is a subsidiary of Novatec, a supplier of machinery and sensor technology, and a sister company to Prophecy Sensorlytics, a wearable sensors company. 

The ViraWarn breath analyzer uses a silk-based sensor that “traces the electric discharge of respiratory viruses coupled with an artificial intelligence (AI) processor to filter out any potential inaccuracies,” according to the news release.

Here is how the breath analyzer (mouthpiece, attached biosensor chamber, and attached printed circuit board chamber) is deployed by a user, according to the Opteev website:

  • The user turns on the device and an LED light indicates readiness.
  • The user blows twice into the mouthpiece.
  • A carbon filter stops bacteria and VOCs and allows virus particles to pass through.
  • As “charge carriers,” virus particles have a “cumulative charge.”
  • In a biosensor chamber, virus particles create a change in “electrical resistivity.”
  • Electrical data are forwarded to the AI processor.
  • The AI processer delivers a result.
  • Within 60 seconds, a red signal indicates a positive presence of a virus and a green signal indicates negative one.

“The interaction of the virus with a specially designed liquid semiconductive medium, or a solid polymer semiconductor, generates changes in the conductivity of the electrical biosensor, which can then be picked up by electrodes. Such electrical data can be analyzed using algorithms and make a positive or negative call,” explains an Opteev white paper on the viral screening process.

While the ViraWarn breath analyzer can identify the presence of a virus, it cannot distinguish between specific viruses, the company noted. Therefore, a clinical laboratory PCR test is needed to confirm results.

Other Breath Tests

Opteev is not the only company developing diagnostic tests using breath samples.

In “Will Blowing in a Device Be Useful in Screening for COVID-19? FDA Grants Its First EUA for a Breathalyzer SARS-CoV-2 Screening Test,” Dark Daily reported on the FDA issuing an EUA in 2022 for the InspectIR COVID-19 Breathalyzer, the first test to detect compounds in breath samples linked to SARS-CoV-2 infection, an FDA statement noted.

And in “NIST Scientists Enhance Frequency Comb Breathalyzer Enabling It to Detect Multiple Disease Biomarkers,” we covered how researchers at JILA, a research center jointly operated by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder, have developed a breath test that can detect and monitor four disease biomarkers at one time with the potential to identify six more.

For clinical laboratory managers and pathologists, Opteev’s ViraWarn is notable in breath diagnostics development because it is a personal hand-held tool. It empowers people to do self-tests and other disease screenings, all of which would need to be confirmed with medical laboratory testing in the case of positive results.

Further, it is important to understand that consumers are the primary target for this novel diagnostic device. This is consistent with investor-funding companies wanting to develop testing solutions that can be used by consumers. At the same time, a device like ViraWarn could be used by clinical laboratories in their patient service centers to provide rapid test results.  

Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Pocket-Sized Breath Analyzer Detects COVID-19, RSV, Influenza in Under 60 Seconds

COVID-19, RSV, and Influenza Breath Analyzer, ViraWarn, Wins CES 2023 Innovation Award

Baltimore Company Launches Device That Detects COVID-19, Flu

ViraWarn Pre-EUA Application

The Missing Piece in the Fight Against the Pandemic is Finally Here: The Evolution of Screening for COVID-19

FDA Authorizes First COVID-19 Diagnostic Test Using Breath Samples

Will Blowing in a Device Be Useful in Screening for COVID-19? FDA Grants Its First EUA for a Breathalyzer SARS-CoV-2 Screening Test

NIST Scientists Enhance Frequency Comb Breathalyzer Enabling It to Detect Multiple Disease Biomarkers

Scientists Identify Growing Number of COVID-19 Variants, But Not All Clinical Laboratories Have the Capability to Test for Variants

Fear that immunity-resistant mutations of SARS-CoV-2 will emerge are real and the scientific community is paying close attention

Detection of an increasing number of new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus raises the possibility that a new strain of COVID-19 might emerge that brings new problems to the management of the pandemic. Public health officials and clinical laboratory scientists are on the alert to determine if any new COVID-19 variant is more virulent or more easily transmissible.

Pathologists, along with the rest of the scientific community worldwide, are following reports of increasing coronavirus mutations with growing concern. The Alpha variant (Lineage B.1.1.7) accounted for most of the COVID-19 cases in April of 2021 in the US, though it was first identified in the United Kingdom. That was followed by the Iota variant (Lineage B.1.526) first identified in New York City. A series of other variants were to follow. Scientists were not surprised. It is normal for viruses to mutate, so they logged and tracked the mutations.

Then, the Delta variant (Lineage B.1.617.2) emerged during a severe outbreak in India. At first, it did not seem more threatening than any other variant, but that changed very quickly. Delta was different.

“The speed with which it dominated the pandemic has left scientists nervous about what the virus will do next. The variant battles of 2021 are part of a longer war, one that is far from over,” The Washington Post reported, which added, “Today, [Delta] has nearly wiped out all of its rivals. The coronavirus pandemic in America has become a Delta pandemic. By the end of July, it accounted for 93.4% of new infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Why is Delta the Worst COVID-19 Variant So Far?

The Delta variant has two advantages that scientists know about:

  • Stickier spike protein than the spike on the original SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, as well as on the other, earlier variants. This means that the Delta variant stands a better chance of remaining in a person’s nose or throat long enough to reproduce.
  • Faster replication. When a virus mutation has more opportunity to reproduce, it quickly becomes the main viral strain. This is the case with the Delta variant. Experts say that the viral load in patients with Delta is around 1,000 times higher than in patients with the original virus.
Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell that is infected with the SARS-COV-2 virus

The image above is a “Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (tan) heavily infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (orange), isolated from a patient sample,” Newsweek reported. (Photo copyright: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/Newsweek.)

Will More Dangerous SARS-CoV-2 Variants Appear?

“The great fear is that nature could spit out some new variant that completely saps the power of vaccines and upends the progress we’ve made against the pandemic. But to virologists and immunologists, such a possibility seems very unlikely,” STAT reported.

That is because, unlike Influenza, which is also a coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 variants are not able to share genetic materials and recombine into deadlier variants. Thus, scientists are skeptical that a variant could appear and wipe out the progress made with vaccines and treatments.

One of the reasons the Flu vaccine changes every year is Influenza’s ability to recombine into variants that can evade immunity. Therefore, scientists are beginning to suspect that SARS-CoV-2, like the Flu, will likely be around for a while.

“I don’t think eradication is on the table. But I think we could come up with something that’s better than what we have for the flu,” Sharone Green, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology and Infection Control Officer at University of Massachusetts Medical School, told Newsweek.

Limiting Infections and Replication

Several factors combined to create the COVID-19 pandemic. But SARS-CoV-2 was a novel coronavirus, meaning it was a new pathogen of a known virus. This meant every person on the planet was a potential host.

The situation now is different. Thanks to natural immunity, vaccines, and treatments that shorten the infection, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has less chance to replicate.

“The pressure is there, but the opportunity is not. The virus has to replicate in order to mutate, but each virus doesn’t get many lottery tickets in a vaccinated person who’s infected,” Jeremy Kamil, PhD, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at LSU Health in Shreveport, La., told STAT.

Tracking Variants of Interest and Variants of Concern

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been monitoring the viral evolution of SARS-CoV-2 since the beginning of the pandemic. In late 2020, the WHO created categories for tracking variants:

The WHO’s lists of VOIs and VOCs help inform the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the CDC’s SARS-CoV-2 Variant Classifications and Definitions:

VOIs are “A variant with specific genetic markers that have been associated with changes to receptor binding, reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact, or predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity.”

Current VOIs include:

  • Eta (Lineage B.1.525), detected in multiple countries, designated a VOI in March 2021.
  • Iota (Lineage B.1.526), US, first detected in November 2020, designated a VOI in March 2021.
  • Kappa (lineage B.1.617.1), India, first detected in October 2020, designated a VOI in April 2021.
  • Lambda (lineage C.37), Peru, first detected in December 2020, designated a VOI in June 2021.

VOCs, on the other hand, demonstrate all the characteristics of VOIs and also demonstrate “an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (e.g., increased hospitalizations or deaths), significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.”

Current VOCs include:

  • Alpha (lineage B.1.1.7), first detected in the UK, September 2020.
  • Beta (lineage B.1.351), first detected in South Africa, May 2020.
  • Gamma (lineage P.1), first detected in Brazil, November 2020.
  • Delta (lineage B.1.617.2), first detected in India, October 2020.

Will Vaccines Stop Working?

With each new variant, there tends to be a flurry of media attention and fearmongering. That a variant could emerge which would render our current vaccines ineffective has the scientific community’s attention.

“There is intense interest in whether mutations in the spike glycoprotein mediate escape from host antibodies and could potentially compromise vaccine effectiveness, since spike is the major viral antigen in the current vaccines,” wrote Adam S. Lauring, MD, PhD, and Emma B. Hodcroft, PhD, in “Genetic Variants of SARS-CoV-2­—What Do They Mean?” published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). 

“Because current vaccines provoke an immune response to the entire spike protein, it is hoped that effective protection may still occur despite a few changes at antigenic sites in SARS-CoV-2 variants,” they added.

Future events may justify the optimism that the ongoing effectiveness of vaccines will help with many COVID-19 variants. But pathologists and clinical laboratory leaders may want to be vigilant, because as infection rates increase, so do workloads and demands on critical resources in their medical laboratories.

Dava Stewart

Related Information

‘Goldilocks Virus’: Delta Vanquishes All Variant Rivals as Scientists Race to Understand Its Tricks

Viral Evolution 101: Why the Coronavirus Has Changed as It Has, and What It Means Going Forward

A Doomsday COVID Variant Worse than Delta and Lambda May Be Coming, Scientists Say

Tracking SARS-CoV-2 Variants

Genetic Variants of SARS-CoV-2—What Do They Mean?

Clinical Laboratories Could Soon Diagnose 17 Diseases with a Single Breath Analyzer Test from Israel’s Institute of Technology

The Technion breathalyzer would give pathology groups and medical laboratories unprecedented ability to support physicians in diagnosing and treating cancers, chronic diseases, and other illnesses

Readers of Dark Daily know that several pathology research teams in America and the UK are developing breath analyzer tests that can detect everything from lung cancer to early-stage infections. Clinical laboratories will soon have a plethora of breath-related tests from which to choose. Now there’s a new kid on the block. A breathalyzer test that can detect up to 17 distinct cancerous, inflammatory, and neurological diseases!

Assuming the cost per test was at a competitive level to existing technologies, what would give this new diagnostic system appeal to physicians and patients alike is that it would be a non-invasive way to diagnose disease. Only a sample of the patient’s breath would be needed to perform the assays.

Researchers at the Israel Institute of Technology, or Technion, published the results of their study in ACS Nano, a monthly journal of the American Chemical Society devoted to “nanoscience and nanotechnology research at the interfaces of chemistry, biology, materials science, physics, and engineering.” (more…)

Study into Use of Breath Analysis to Monitor Lung Cancer Therapy Enhances Clinical Laboratories’ Ability to Support Precision Medicine

A recent study adds to the growing body of research into breath analysis as a diagnostic and treatment-monitoring tool

More progress is being made on the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer. The newest developments will be of interest to anatomic pathologists who work with lung specimens. A new study suggests it is possible to use breath specimens to monitor the progress of lung cancer patients undergoing therapy.

The study was conducted by Inbar Nardi-Agmon, MD, Thoracic Cancer Research and Detection Center at Sheba Medical Center, Tel-Aviv, Israel, and colleagues, and was published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology (JTO). The study investigated the use of breath analysis to monitor lung cancer therapy.

The authors of the study took 143 exhaled breath samples from 39 patients who were undergoing treatment for advanced lung cancer. They used gas chromatography and mass spectrometry analysis to identify three different volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that indicate partial response (PR) or stable disease. One of those compounds discriminated between PR/stable disease and progressive disease. (more…)

In the UK, Pathologists Are Watching Phase II of a Clinical Trial for a Breathalyzer System That Uses Only a Breath Specimen to Diagnose Lung Cancer

If the clinical study validates this patient-friendly, non-invasive approach to diagnosing lung cancer, it could eventually mean fewer referrals of tissue biopsies to medical laboratories

For almost a decade, pathologists have seen a regular stream of news stories about technologies that utilize a sample of human breath to diagnose a disease or health condition. Now comes news that just such a diagnostic test for lung cancer is beginning clinical trials in the United Kingdom.

The clinical trials will evaluate breathalyzer technology developed by Engineer Billy Boyle, M.S., Co-founder and President of Operations at Cambridge-based Owlstone Ltd.. The clinical trials of this new breathalyzer technology to detect lung cancer are taking place at two National Health Service (NHS) hospitals: University Hospitals of Leicester and Cambridge’s Papworth Hospital in the United Kingdom.

The reason why so much research is happening in this field will be familiar to clinical laboratory managers and pathologists. Use of volatile organic compound (VOC) biomarkers in breath to diagnose disease is an ideal concept because it is convenient, non-invasive, and well tolerated by patients. However, until the start of this clinical study, researchers have explored the potential of this diagnostic approach for some time, but with limited success. (more…)