Brown University, RIH researchers develop breathalyzer- style COVID-19 test

The Bubbler can detect COVID strains and other virus particles- like the flu.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – A new breathalyzer-style COVID-19 test has been developed and it’s all thanks to local researchers at Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital.

It’s called the Bubbler. Simply put, it’s named after the bubbling sound it makes when in use, but also to add a New England spin on the device– inspired by the the Northeast term many use to describe a water fountain.

And it’s been a long road to get here. Researchers, including Lead investigator Professor Will Fairbrother, began testing the Bubbler in March of 2020- when COVID-19 tests were hard to come by.

“Coronavirus is an RNA virus… you can breathe through this device and then the virus gets turned into DNA that can then be analyzed in a conventional PCR test,” Will Fairbrother says. Results can be ready in as little as 2 hours.

The Bubbler is more advanced than just giving a positive or negative COVID result. It can also detect the specific strain of COVID- including Omicron, as well as other viruses like Influenza.

Fairbrother says the principal benefit is the Bubbler detects RNA in the breath, adding sometimes with a swab-to-test you can test positive for up to 90 days after you’ve had the virus.

Researchers, like Chaouri Duan, add it’s also more user friendly.

“The nasal swab is sometimes referred to as a brain swab, which can be intimidating for kids… where as this is like blowing through a milkshake or a soda, something kids already do,” Fairbrother says.

The Bubbler was tested on 70 patients in the Emergency Room at Rhode Island Hospital between May 2020 and January 2021.

Researchers are in the process of submitting the test to get Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. If all goes as planned, the Bubbler could be used in Rhode Island in as soon as 6 months.

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