The team quickly realized that the MAEGLIN program’s gas sensor, which was originally developed for environmental monitoring, could be modified for medical use. To that end, AFRL decided to have the program contract modified.
“The goal of the MAEGLIN program was not to develop a medical device but a means for autonomous environmental gas monitoring,” said AFRL research team member Dr. Robert Bedford. “However, the technology showed promise for medical applications, and we saw an opportunity to use it for urgent needs during the global pandemic.”
Used somewhat like a breathalyzer, the system, which is designed to identify trace amounts of gas, can detect the chemical signature of ARDS in its earliest stages through non-invasive use. This allows overwhelmed medical staff to quickly and easily identify at-risk patients 24 hours earlier than by using any other diagnostic techniques available today. Such early detection can help determine which patients will likely need ventilators, saving lives by intervening before the coronavirus can seriously damage the patient’s lungs.
Previous, preliminary testing of a similar device was funded by the National Institutes of Health and involved 20 non-COVID ARDS patients. The NIH device was a small, suitcase-sized gas chromatograph. The MAEGLIN device also uses gas chromatography, but it is much smaller and more efficient. It is also expected to be more accurate, since it uses machine learning algorithms developed under the MAEGLIN effort.
Although not part of the NIH testing on non-COVID ARDS patients, AFRL is currently involved in testing as a result of the modified contract. Modifications to the MAEGLIN contract took less than a week and the effort built four prototype units. After approving the Institutional Review Board Protocols, the University of Michigan began trials in non-military ICUs with COVID-19 ARDS patients as well as with healthy adults as a control group.
When asked about successes to date, Bedford admits it is too early to tell.
“This is a trial, after all. However, in breath analysis experiments, gas chromatography is often used to verify other systems. Therefore, the micro-GC system with its powerful signal analysis techniques combine to make a very promising approach,” Bedford said.
For now, the benefits of this device and approaches for its use will be monitored on an ongoing basis.
The Air Force Research Laboratory is the primary scientific research and development center for the Air Force and the Space Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,000 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development.
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