DENTON, Texas — A University of North Texas professor and his research team of three students have found a way to sense how much of a viral load an illness like COVID-19 can have in people. A mass spectrometer machine, about the size of a small suitcase, has been remodeled to take breath samples of unique volatile organic compounds coming from out of your breath.  

"We essentially shifted gears and applied our research onto the current issue at hand which was COVID-19," said Camila Anguiano-Virgen, one of the PhD chemistry candidates who's working on the project.

Early research dating back to at least 2016 surrounding breath biopsies have been tested, and put to use by UNT students like Anguiano-Virgen who are looking for the best solution for slowing down the virus.

"I really just enjoy essentially having something that will really make an impact into the world," Anguiano-Virgen. "I think back to when I first started and I was like I knew nothing."

Dr. Guido Verbeck assisting research team of students understand lab results (Chris Grisby/Spectrum News 1)
Dr. Guido Verbeck assisting research team of students understand lab results (Chris Grisby/Spectrum News 1)

Over the last year and a half, the soon-to-be graduate has gotten hands-on with black boxes to help it sniff out COVID-19. Through the guidance of her professor, Dr. Guido Verbeck, the research team of students has developed a more streamlined approach to detect for a disease state, in about 60 seconds.

"I would really kill for this instrument to really make it out there and be applicable in the Army, Air Force, Navy," said Anguiano-Virgen. "Everyone can really just implement this into their everyday sensor like technology."

The research team is creating solutions one trial and error at a time. The group's ultimate goal is to build a sniffing device that could test for multiple air-borne illnesses.

The device is going through FDA approval right now, and Anguiano-Virgen says when she graduates in August she'll know the long hours spent inside the laboratory will pay off when their system makes it to the consumer market.

"We have about a two-year window to really get these devices tuned in, and out there in the market to help protect people and companies because these waves come in and we need to be ready for it," said Verbeck. "It's hard where we stand because we're device builders, but we have to be good biochemists too."