Gouma earns defense funding to advance early detection of respiratory infections

Posted: September 6, 2023
Perena Gouma in her lab
Professor and Chair Perena Gouma in her lab.

Materials Science and Engineering Professor Perena Gouma has been awarded funding from the Department of Defense to develop a handheld breathalyzer capable of detecting early-stage respiratory infections. Gouma is also the Edward Orton, Jr. Chair in Ceramic Engineering.

The handheld testing device, called “RISE” (Respiratory Infection Single Exhale test), is initially targeted for those actively serving in the U.S. military. Men and women in uniform routinely operate in remote and austere environments where access to diagnostic testing or medical personnel is limited. In these environments, the risk of contracting an infectious disease is often high, and sudden illness can lead to mission failure. Existing mobile diagnostic testing equipment does not meet the needs of the complex operational environment.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) are partnering to leverage recent advances in rapid sampling, detection, and analytical technology to analyze volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and aerosols that are collected from a human subject’s exhaled breath that serve as telltale signs of early infection. Early detection would permit early intervention that can mitigate impacts on operational readiness.

Gouma's research focuses on the development of artificial olfaction systems like breath analyzers, electronic noses and tongues as well as the synthesis and characterization of nanomaterials for bio-/chemical sensors and biotechnology. Designed for use by the non-medical population, her non-invasive breathalyzer technology uses gas-selective materials to detect VOCs associated with pre-symptomatic infections. Earlier efforts resulted in a breathalyzer technology developed by Gouma to detect COVID-19 in exhaled breath of individuals in as little as 15 seconds.

Advancing Gouma’s breathalyzer technology further is vital to mitigating the spread of infectious respiratory disease and protecting warfighters' mission readiness. The expected outcome of this research and development effort will be point-of-care diagnostics of disease with over-the-counter availability. A start-up to commercialize this technology has also been formed in tandem with the Defense Innovation Unit award.

The Ohio State University is one of three entities being awarded under the EXHALE OTA, which is specific to detection of VOCs in exhaled breath. Prototypes developed under the EXHALE Program will fill a gap in early infectious disease detection with the intent of preventing or mitigating the operational impact of infectious respiratory disease transmission among the force, wherever deployed.

from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Categories: AwardsResearch