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Breath-measuring device in upcoming NHS trials could monitor recovery from Covid-19

Joseph Flaig

The CRiL N-Tidal C is designed to measure exhaled carbon dioxide in the breath (Credit: Wideblue)
The CRiL N-Tidal C is designed to measure exhaled carbon dioxide in the breath (Credit: Wideblue)

A new handheld device that measures a person’s breath could track recovery from Covid-19, its creators have said.

Wideblue said it is working with NHS England on a clinical trial of its personal ‘capnometer’, and will be submitting its device in the next month. It could also help determine if a patient needs a ventilator.

Commissioned by Cambridge Respiratory Innovations Limited, the CRiL N-Tidal C is designed to measure exhaled carbon dioxide (CO2) in the breath, which is a good indicator of lung health. Hospitals usually do this with large capnometers, but the new device is designed to be low-cost and simple to use.

The N-Tidal, now in its second generation after six years of development, was initially aimed at people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Now, it could monitor the efficiency of the lungs to track recovery from Covid-19, says IMechE member Barry Warden, design and development manager at Wideblue. “It will tell you how that patient’s lungs look on day one, then day seven, then day 30, for example. It’s more about that change for the individual patient.”

To measure CO2, the device sends infrared rays through the breath into a gold Fresnel reflector, which focuses the light back through the breath onto a very sensitive infrared sensor. Each breath is plotted onto a graph, which is analysed by software algorithms and trained clinical experts to potentially reveal underlying health problems.  

Crucially, patients only have to breathe out normally. Other measurements, such as peak flow and volume, rely on patients blowing out as hard as they can – with the potential spread of virus particles, these methods have “essentially been put on hold”, says Warden.

Through tracking individual patient recovery, the N-Tidal could shed more light on the general recovery process. “The longer-term and shorter-term recovery is quite unknown at the moment,” said Warden. “There is a real urgent need for action, so it is being pushed through safely but faster than previously would have been the case.”

Ultimately the device, which is in the second stage of clinical evaluation, could be used in the home. It wirelessly transmits data to remote servers, currently through 3G. Connectivity is being upgraded to 4G and 5G compatibility to make it in line with US regulations, where there has been some interest.

The team has built about 200 handsets and 2,000 replaceable breath tubes, aiming to reach the low thousands of devices in the next few months. It was designed to enable straightforward manufacturing scale-up.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. 


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