Cardea Bio’s Electronic ‘Nose’ Will Detect Infectious Diseases

Coronavirus cells under magnification intertwined with DNA cell structure
Credit: matejmo/Getty Images

An insect odorant receptor will be added to Cardea Bio’s Biosignal Processing Unit (BPU) to detect infectious diseases like SARS-CoV-2 in the air in a collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The San Diego health tech company was founded in 2013 and has specialized in making and refining BPUs for a variety of biosensing and diagnostic purposes. The BPU is a mass-produced chip made from graphene that converts biological information into electrical signals. Graphene is useful for biosensors as it is conductive, but also does not react to biological material.

Cardea have already carried out some trial projects in this area. For example, last year they announced they were working with New Zealand-based Scentian Bio to test if insect odorant receptors could be combined with their technology to create an ‘electronic nose.’ Insect odorant receptors have the advantage of being able to detect individual molecules, which makes them a more precise option than other types of scent detectors.

The new partnership with the Gates Foundation, which comes with a $1.1 million grant, will help test the technology and assess how accurate it is for detection of airborne infectious diseases.

“Using our BPU Platform to bring novel and feasible diagnosis capabilities to developing countries was a major driver as to why we started Cardea in the first place,” commented Michael Heltzen, CEO at Cardea Bio, in a press statement. “Developing an electronic nose with the potential to diagnose diseases like COVID, malaria, cancer, and so on, is literally a dream come true!”

There has been interest in developing an effective electronic nose for healthcare purposes for some time, since it was identified that dogs are able to detect diseases such as cancer through smell.

Cardea are not the only ones to develop an electronic nose for this purpose. There are several other devices that are being developed to sniff out infectious diseases such as COVID-19, as well as other conditions such as cancer. Many of these are focusing on detection of volatile organic compounds. For example, Israeli firm NanoScent, Dutch firm Breathomix, or NASAs E-Nose, among others.

However, Cardea’s approach is somewhat different in that its BPU device can also be used to detect other things depending on how it is set up. For example, its CRISPR-Chip BPU can be used to detect genetic disorders like Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy by harnessing the power of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology.

If successfully validated, Cardea plans to develop a cost-effective, handheld device that can be used to detect infectious disease molecules in the air with an initial focus on roll-out in developing countries.

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