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Perena Gouma awarded funding from DoD to develop handheld breathalyzer capable of early detection of respiratory infections

photo of Professor Perana Gouma Ohio State
Professor Perena Gouma

Perena Gouma, Edward Orton, Jr., Chair in Ceramic Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering professor at The Ohio State University, has been awarded funding from the Department of Defense to develop RISE- a Respiratory Infection Single Exhale Test. The testing device is a hand-held breathalyzer capable of detecting early-stage respiratory infections, initially targeted for those actively serving in the U.S. military. Remote locations, lack of medical personnel and lengthy diagnosis returns are among the reasons portable, easy-to-use breathalyzers are needed to diagnose and mitigate the spread of respiratory illnesses among warfighters. 

“The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) are partnering to leverage recent advances in rapid sampling, detection, and analytical technology to analyze volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and aerosols that are collected from a human subject’s exhaled breath that serve as telltale signs of early infection. Early detection would permit early intervention that can mitigate impacts on operational readiness.”1

The Ohio State University is one of three entities being awarded under the EXHALE OTA, which is specific to detection of VOCs in exhaled breath.

Prototypes developed under the EXHALE Program will fill a gap in early infectious disease detection with the intent of preventing or mitigating the operational impact of infectious respiratory disease transmission among the force, wherever deployed.1 

Defense Innovation Unit

Dr. Gouma's research focuses on the development of artificial olfaction systems like breath analyzers, electronic noses and tongues as well as the synthesis and characterization of nanomaterials for bio-/chemical sensors and biotechnology. Designed for use by the non-medical population, her non-invasive breathalyzer technology uses gas-selective materials to detect VOCs associated with pre-symptomatic infections. Earlier efforts resulted in a breathalyzer technology developed by Dr. Gouma to detect COVID-19 in exhaled breath of individuals in as little as 15 seconds.

Advancing Gouma’s breathalyzer technology further is vital to mitigating the spread of infectious respiratory disease and protecting warfighters' mission readiness. The expected outcome of this research and development effort will be point-of-care diagnostics of disease with over-the-counter availability. A start-up to commercialize this technology has also been formed in tandem with the Defense Innovation Unit award.

Defense Innovation Unit (DIU)

"[The Defense Innovation Unit is] the only Department of Defense organization focused exclusively on fielding and scaling commercial technology across the U.S. military to help solve critical problems."

Defense Innovation Unit. Why DIU?, Accessed August 26, 2023.


1 Diagnosing Early Infection Presymptom With A Single Breath, Defense Innovation Unit. May 19, 2023. Accessed August 26, 2023.