“SIFT-MS has already shown its potential for rapid virus screening.”

Ian Farrell

Dr. Ian Farrell

BSc(Hons), MSc, PhD


Application Scientist

Unsurprisingly, over the past few weeks, we have been asked this questions a lot of times.

Exhaled breath contains a range of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that arise from various physiological and microbiological processes in the body. We have many customers that are successfully using SIFT-MS to study these compounds and attempt to assign their presence or absence to various metabolic functions.

Viral diseases alter biological processes to varying degrees. It therefore follows that the suite of exhaled chemicals detectable in breath can be influenced by changes to these processes. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that the breath of COVID-19 sufferers may contain biomarkers specific to this condition.

SIFT-MS has already shown its potential for rapid virus screening. For example, work has already been published using SIFT-MS to detect the presence of both the H1N1 influenza virus and its vaccine by looking for characteristic biomarkers in breath[1].

Will this work for COVID-19?

As the disease only emerged in December of 2019, no one has yet published any results, so it isn’t possible to give a definitive answer to this question; all we can say is that, at this stage, there is a reasonable chance that it might.

As a real-time direct analysis technique, for breath research, SIFT-MS has a few important advantages over conventional mass spectrometry. Not least, its ability to sample humid, exhaled breath directly and without pre-treatment.

That said, there are cases where indirect sampling is useful and the recent launch of the award winning Thermal Desorption (TD)-SIFT-MS package[2], allows for breath samples to be collected from patients on thermal desorption tubes and analysed rapidly back in the lab, with typical analysis times of 3-5 minutes per tube. Great if you are conducting a large scale trial.

SIFT-MS can also be used in the analytical laboratory for in-vitro studies by measuring the composition of the headspace above samples in vials. Using an auto sampler, large numbers of samples can be analysed automatically and unattended.

If you are interested in using SIFT-MS for COVID-19 research or clinical breath studies, email us on info@syft.com or visit the contact page of our website.

[1] “Effect of the influenza A H1N1 live attenuated inphotoshop tranasal vaccine on nitric oxide (FE(NO)) and other volatiles in exhaled breath” Journal of Breath Research (2015) Vol 5 Iss 3, A. Mashir et al

[2] The TD-SIFT-MS innovation by Syft Technologies and GERSTEL, placed 7th in The Analytical Scientist Innovation Awards 2019.  https://theanalyticalscientist.com/techniques-tools/the-analytical-scientist-innovation-awards-2019-the-shape-of-things-to-come