COVID-19 has heightened the need for early diagnosis tools for airborne diseases. The logic is simple: the sooner we recognize an infection, the sooner we can take care of our health and protect those around us.
The winning team of the Terabreath Technopark Technopark acceleration program is developing a respiration analyzer based on terahertz radiation that will help identify chemical and biological biomarkers in human respiration, including proteins associated with viruses.
Project coordinator Oleg Kameshkov, postgraduate student at the Physics Department of NSU, has been working in the field of terahertz optics for more than five years and is engaged in modeling physical systems. The device, which is being developed by Oleg's team, is a fast, accurate and economical way to monitor the health of the population.
More than a thousand volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and respiratory aerosol metabolites can be detected by examining exhaled air. Both are indicators of the presence of pathogenic bacteria and viruses in the body. Terahertz radiation could make them a rich source of health information by identifying chemical and biological biomarkers in human respiration.
“The process can be represented as a sea wave. It has rise and fall points, where one dip-to-rise cycle during wave propagation is measured in hertz. One kilohertz is a thousand cycles per second, and one terahertz is a trillion cycles per second. Proteins and genetic material of viruses, such as DNA and RNA, have a special response to electromagnetic waves of precisely the terahertz frequency. However, proteins are very small, so we use a sensor to recognize them. By tuning the sensor to certain frequencies, our analyzer can amplify the signal from the pathogen and signal its presence,” Oleg explained.
Standard biochemical tests for viral infections, for example, PCR, have a number of limitations. The main disadvantages are that they require qualified specialists for swab collection and analysis in the laboratory, and the result has to wait several hours. Terabreath technology does not require expensive chemicals, qualified specialists and laboratory facilities. - the result is not subject to external factors, and the patient can receive it within a few minutes.
Devices with similar technology on the market focus on the analysis of metabolites, the change in concentration of which is not an unambiguous biomarker of disease. This makes it difficult to use such analyzers for medical purposes.
At the moment, Oleg's team, together with the G.I.Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics, SB RAS, has already created the first prototypes of sensors and is at the testing stage.
Team, participation in A: START and future prospects
“At some point I got tired of doing exclusively research tasks, and I realized that I wanted to create something useful, interesting and ambitious. Armed with hypotheses about the applicability of our research to real life and the idea that it used to be the time of garage startups, but now the time of startups from laboratories, I went to A: START.”
Now in the team Teraduct sensors work together with Oleg: a specialist in working with terahertz plasmonics, a specialist in plasma-chemical etching, laser cutting and X-ray photolithography, a specialist in electron-beam and magnetron sputtering and the creation of microstructures. The team is looking for hardware automation specialists with the help of Labview, a biophotonics specialist and business consultant.
“I came to A: START only with the technology that we are developing at the institute, and a number of hypotheses written in difficult scientific language. During the passage of the accelerator with the help of a powerful expert staff, I had to leave the comfort zone and redirect the vector of attention from the technology itself to the potential client. The final direction of the project appeared precisely during the passage of A: START”, - Oleg shared.
The plans for the next six months: refinement of sensor technologies and obtaining additional funding to expand the team.
The Technopark Akademgorodok Foundation is a development institute established in 2006 by the Government of the Novosibirsk Region, the Novosibirsk Mayor's Office, the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Novosibirsk State University to build an effective system for generating, developing, supporting and promoting high-tech business in the Technopark of the Novosibirsk Academgorodok.
The Fund implements such projects in the Academpark as: the Academpark business incubator, business accelerator A: START, the regional office of the Innovation Promotion Fund, the HealthNet NTI infrastructure center and others.
Business Accelerator A: START is one of the best acceleration programs in Russia, thanks to which, since 2010, innovative startups in the field of medicine, IT, instrumentation, nano- and biotechnology have been created and developed at Academpark. For 11 years, the project has helped create more than 200 successful startups.