April 14, 2022

U.S. Military Collaboration Using Breathalyzer Technology to Detect SARS-CoV-2

The research program, under the USU-4D Bio3 Center for Biotechnology, is a collaboration between The Geneva Foundation, Uniformed Services University (USU), 59th Medical Wing, Texas A&M University Systems, and Level 42.


BETHESDA, Maryland – As the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, it is critical to detect SARS-CoV-2 infections effectively and quickly on a large scale. Researchers with The Geneva Foundation, under the USU-4DBio3 Center for Biotechnology (4D Bio3), are working to develop adaptable tools to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 and other dangerous pathogens in less than three minutes using breathalyzer technology and detection through audible sound.

Acute respiratory diseases (ARDs) pose a significant threat to the operational readiness of the U.S. military. Inexpensive, rapid, and reliable diagnostics are required to treat and prevent ARDs. The 4D Bio3 For Austere Military Environments (FAME): Passive Detection SARs-CoV-2 Breathalyzer for Operational Medicine research program is sponsored by the Uniformed Services University (USU) and led by 4D Bio3 Director Vincent Ho, MD, MBA.

“Current laboratory diagnostic procedures can be costly, time-consuming, and operator dependent,” said Dr. Ho. “Furthermore, it has become apparent during the pandemic that invasive approaches such as nasal swabs require proper collection and lab-based confirmation such as PCR testing introduces lengthy delays in diagnosis.” He added, “Non-invasive, or passive surveillance technology for SARS-CoV-19 could significantly improve our capacity to screen patients more quickly. Moreover, if these biotechnologies can rapidly screen for a variety of respiratory pathogens, our ability to identify and to contain outbreaks would be significantly improved.”

The program will leverage existing collaborations with Texas A&M University Systems, Level 42, and the 59th Medical Wing to modify and operationalize portable detectors in multiple military and civilian environments.

One of the major aims of the research is to test Level 42’s e-stethoscope device called the imPulse Una system which can detect audible and inaudible low-frequency, low amplitude sound generated by normal breathing and added sounds caused by the COVID-19 virus. The device is used over clothing as an e-stethoscope and initial studies have shown great promise in its ability to distinguish SARS-CoV-2 positive patients from those who are negative. The imPulse will be adapted in this study to provide a rapid, inexpensive method for detecting the virus in larger numbers of people.

Another goal of this program is to test the Texas A&M PROTECT Kiosk, a portable mass spectrometer detector that will be tested in military operational medicine environments. The device can analyze breath from 20 subjects per hour as part of a SARS-CoV-2 screening diagnostics program.

The USU-4D Bio3 research team will also investigate other emerging biosensor technologies that show promise for low-cost, portable, detection of SARS-CoV-2 and other threats.

The FAME program has brought innovative technology solutions for the military to far forward locations, such as an austere ruggedized printer that can fabricate multi-materials.

This new initiative (award number HU00012120093) is funded by the Defense Health Program under a cooperative research agreement by USU in the amount of $5.7 million. The period of performance is from 2021 to 2024.

The opinions and assertions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Uniformed Services University or the Department of Defense.


About USU-4D Bio3 Center for Biotechnology

The Uniformed Services University Biotechnology, Biomanufacturing, and Bioprinting Center for Biotechnology (USU-4D Bio3 Center for Biotechnology), an official USU Center, is at the forefront of emerging biotechnologies to equip and support U.S. warfighters. USU-4D Bio3 is a leader in biofabrication in austere military environments, on demand blood, and organ-on-chip technologies.

About The Geneva Foundation

The Geneva Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that advances military medicine through innovative scientific research, exceptional program management, and a dedication to U.S. service members and veterans, their families, and the global community. Geneva is proud to have nearly 29 years of experience in delivering full-spectrum scientific, technical, and program management expertise in the areas of federal grants, federal contracts, industry-sponsored clinical trials, and educational services. www.genevaUSA.org


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