Researchers at Harvard University have developed a face mask with a sensor to detect COVID-19, according to a BusinessInsider report.
Wyss Institute researcher James Collins and his group developed a rapid self-activating COVID-19 diagnostic face mask. It can be worn by patients or people at home who have symptoms of coronavirus to quickly signal the presence of the virus without the need for hands-on manipulation, according to Harvard University.
Collins and the researchers suggest that patients can be easily triaged for proper medical care while healthcare workers and patients nearby are protected by using the diagnostic wearable.
The mask is made using highly sensitive molecular sensors coupled to synthetic biology networks and shows an immediately visible or florescent color signal when CoV2 is detected. It is cell-free molecular machinery that is freeze-dried and integrated with synthetic material on the interior of the face mask.
Once exposed to small droplets that occur during normal breathing, sneezing and coughing and the humidity of exhaled air, the reactions of the molecular sensors are rehydrated and activated to produce a positive or negative signal within 1 to 3 hours.
“As we open up our transit system, you could envision it being used in airports as we go through security, as we wait to get on a plane,” Collins told BusinessInsider. “You or I could use it on the way to and from work. Hospitals could use it for patients as they come in or wait in the waiting room as a pre-screen of who’s infected.”
Collins and the researchers originally published a study on the sensors in 2016. The sensors were developed for a portable, low-cost diagnostic platform to detect Zika virus. In the study, the researchers said paper-based sensors could offer a solution to many challenges of diagnosing a virus during the pandemic. Standard serological approaches like antibody detection have limited diagnostic value because of cross-reactivity in patients who have been infected with other flaviviruses circulating in particular regions.
“We initially did this on paper to create inexpensive paper-based diagnostics,” Collins said. “We’ve shown it can work on plastic, quartz, as well as cloth.”
The researchers said that the current project is in its early stages, but that results have shown promise. Over the next few weeks, the team plans to study whether the sensors can be embedded on the inside of an over-the-counter mask.
“Once we’re in that stage, then it would be a matter setting up trials with individuals expected to be infected to see if it would work in a real-world setting,” Collins told BusinessInsider.