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Israeli instant COVID gargle test set to deploy in European airports

Inventors in self-service spit test have signed a deal with airport security giant to pilot tech on the continent, predict it will be a ‘de facto solution for air travel’

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

A mask-wearing traveler looks at his cellphone in front of a flight panel (Vergani_Fotografia; iStock by Getty Images)
A mask-wearing traveler looks at his cellphone in front of a flight panel (Vergani_Fotografia; iStock by Getty Images)

A new made-in-Israel gargle test for coronavirus is being deployed in European airports, after a leading aviation security company threw its weight behind the tech.

A freshly inked agreement will lead to the tests being piloted in two European airports within days or weeks, and comes as pilot programs for the tests are already underway in 12 hospitals internationally, Eli Assoolin, who led the development team, told Times of Israel.

The SpectraLIT test, which eliminates the need for swabbing and lab processing, works on a self-service basis, with passengers simply asked to gargle with 10 milliliters of a special mouthwash, and then spit into a tube. “It will prove no more inconvenient than fingerprint checks,” said Assoolin.

In the initial pilot phase, a passenger who tests positive will be sent for a standard swab test.

The test, developed by Assoolin’s company Newsight together with Sheba Medical Center under the freshly formed Virusight Diagnostic, is being taken to airports by ICTS Europe, a security company that operates in more than 120 airports across 23 countries.

The self-service passenger stands in to which Virusight Diagnostic and ICTS Europe plan to integrate Israeli-developed gargle COVID-19 tests for airports. (courtesy of ICTS Europe)

ICTS has just agreed to pilot the SpectraLIT, and signed a letter of intent declaring that it will roll it out internationally if it proves effective, once regulatory approval has been received.

“We think our solution is going to be the de facto solution for air travel,” Assoolin told The Times of Israel, saying he foresees millions of his tests used over the coming months.

Illustrative: A woman gargles while using mouthwash from a glass (Tharakorn; iStock by Getty Images)

He said he expects to see the screening method deployed quickly in two European airports, integrated into self-service stands that ICTS already has for checking body temperature and printing boarding passes.

“Once the device proves itself in one airport we can — within a month including training and everything — take it to dozens of airports,” he stated.

Oren Sapir, ICTS Europe’s president and CEO, commented: “As travel restrictions are gradually lifted, innovation and technology will continue to be central to the industry’s recovery, and so we are proud and extremely pleased to join forces with Virusight to unveil SpectraLIT.”

Left to right: Eli Assoolin, CEO of Newsight, Professor Eli Schwartz of Sheba Medical Center and Eyal Yatskan, co-founder of Newsight, with the machine for testing gargle samples (courtesy of Newsight)

The tech has been trialed on 400 people at Sheba, and showed around 95% accuracy.

“We chose Virusight due to its proven diagnostic track record,” said Sapir.

Regular tests require swabs from the nose or throat and time-consuming lab processes carried out by trained staff. SpectraLIT relies on artificial intelligence to interpret a reading of a gargle sample.

It shines light through the sample and onto a special chip. Part of the light is absorbed, and the rest is captured by the sensors. The process is known as determining the sample’s spectral signature: matter reflects different light signatures, depending on its composition.

An airplane takes off over airport control tower at sunset (satit_srihin; iStock by Getty Images)

Artificial intelligence tools have made it possible for the developers to build a model for the mouthwash signature from a coronavirus-positive person, as opposed to those from non-infected individuals.

Sheba’s chief innovation officer Dr. Eyal Zimlichman described the new agreement as an “important milestone” for Virusight and said: “Digital health will transform healthcare, and this is yet another example of leveraging artificial intelligence technology to mitigate COVID-19.”

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