A quartet of Rutgers University professors and engineers want to make it easier, faster, and more comfortable for people in New Jersey and elsewhere to detect whether or not they have COVID-19, and eventually, a variety of other illnesses.

Through a grant from the National Institutes of Health, they are working on a non-invasive, at-home test that resembles a breathalyzer, which if it works could detect the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus without needing a lab analysis or medical intermediary.

"We're targeting a 10-minute mark on our device, so the idea would be that you basically know, pretty quickly, whether or not you have detectable levels of infection," Dr. Edward DeMauro, one of the researchers and an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said.

DeMauro and his colleagues German Drazer, Hao Lin, and Mehdi Javanmard say they rarely get the chance to work on something in the health field that might help people immediately and directly, but their backgrounds fit the concept of what they have in development.

"Being fluid mechanics people, we're applying that knowledge from engineering toward this COVID-19 problem," DeMauro said. "While we may not necessarily seem like the first set of people you might expect to be tackling this problem, much of the basics of what we're doing here is well within our wheelhouses."

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The device's biggest draw, according to DeMauro, is that it would not require a nasal swab, which many may feel is uncomfortable and invasive. All the test would need is a user's breath, and then an electric sensor would register any viral information.

DeMauro said that such an option might be especially attractive to parents wanting to be able to test their children for the coronavirus, in the interest of fully reopening schools this fall.

He also hopes that the technology can be expanded to one day be able to diagnose influenza or other viral illnesses.

"Devices like this are going to be instrumental in helping us answer questions right away as to determine, do I have a sneeze because of pollen, or do I really maybe have COVID-19?" DeMauro said.

Rutgers has been contributing to the COVID testing landscape since the earliest days of the pandemic, pioneering a widely-used saliva test.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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