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Professor Claudia Denkinger from Heidelberg University's Faculty of Medicine is leading the international collaborative project "BreathForDiagnosis", which is funded by the European Commission under the "Horizon Europe" framework program, and co-funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) with a budget of 3 million euros. Together with an industrial partner from Switzerland, researchers from Germany, Italy, South Africa and Romania are developing user-friendly breath tests for the rapid diagnosis of respiratory infections such as tuberculosis.

Researchers led by Prof. Claudia Denkinger want to simplify the diagnosis of dangerous respiratory infections with special respiratory sample collectors, as shown in the picture (Avelo AG).

Affordable, easy-to-use and widely available tests are the best way to prevent the spread of serious respiratory infections and enable those affected to receive early treatment. The international consortium "BreathForDx" has set itself the goal of developing and testing novel methods for the diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB) and putting them into practice. In the future, there is potential to extend the methodology to other respiratory diseases.

Heisenberg Professor Dr. Claudia Denkinger, Medical Faculty of Heidelberg University and Medical Director of the Department of Infectious Disease and Tropical Medicine at Heidelberg University Hospital, is coordinating the project. It is funded by the European Commission under the "Horizon Europe" framework program and by the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) with a budget of 3 million euros.

Project partners are the IRCCS San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, Italy, the South African organization Desmond Tutu Health Foundation, the Marius Nasta Institute of Pneumophthisiology in Bucharest, Romania, and the Swiss company Avelo, which is developing innovative devices for sampling and capturing pathogens from breath. 

Early diagnosis can prevent deaths

Respiratory infections led to more than 7 million deaths in 2020 alone. One of the most dangerous respiratory infections, including but not limited to lower income countries of Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, is tuberculosis: it claims more than 1.4 million lives every year, including 250,000 children. "Timely diagnosis is crucial to prevent deaths. However, tests are often not available," explains Claudia Denkinger. "Breath-based tests have great potential to revolutionize tuberculosis diagnostics, as the critical step of sample collection is significantly simplified and the sample is easily accessible. This would allow us to reach more affected people." 

Also suitable for detecting resistance?

The project partners will develop two breath sampling devices, optimize them in test runs and evaluate the benefits of the entire diagnostic procedure for early detection and screening in clinical trials. They will also examine the extent to which this diagnostic procedure is suitable for detecting drug resistance and how well Avelo's new devices perform in terms of cost efficiency and user-friendliness compared to conventional, more complex procedures. Another research focus is the extent to which diagnostics that use breath as a sample can contain the spread of infections - similar to the SARS-CoV-2 rapid tests for Covid. After all, only those who know they are infected can change their behavior and protect those around them.

"In BreathForDx, we are bringing together innovations in bioaerosol and materials science with the expertise of participating universities, industry and non-governmental organizations. Our shared vision is that a single breath sample in combination with molecular testing methods will enable accessible, reliable and immediate diagnosis of highly transmissible respiratory infections and thus improve the health of individuals and populations," says Claudia Denkinger.

This is how the diagnosis of respiratory infections such as tuberculosis should work in the future (Avelo AG).


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