If you thought wearing facemasks against COVID-19 was crazy, scientists now have a new gadget for you. Researchs at Harvard and MIT have created a facemask with an in-built biosensor that will test your breath and detect if you have COVID-19.
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A team of Harvard and MIT researchers have come up with a wearable biosensor small enough to clip onto a face mask.
Wearers breathe into their masks for 15 to 30 minutes, press a button on the sensor, and within 90 more minutes, their COVID test results show up on a readout strip similar to a pregnancy test.
The invention is described in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
“For every single person that has this diagnostic face mask, not only are you preventing the virus from spreading, you’re actually pinpointing whether or not they have it relatively rapidly,” said co-first author Peter Nguyen, a research scientist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute.
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The sensor is built on past research from Wyss Core Faculty member and senior author Jim Collins, who pioneered the wearable freeze-dried cell-free (wFDCF) technology.
To create the sensor, the team extracted and freeze-dried the molecular machinery that cells use to identify genetic material like DNA and RNA. That information acts as a “fingerprint” for the sensor to identify the virus, said co-first author Luis Soenksen, a postdoctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute.
The sensor is activated with the press of a button, which releases a small amount of water to rehydrate the freeze-dried components. The same technology could be used to identify another pathogen, like influenza, says the author.
What’s more, the diagnostic system could be integrated directly into fabric to bypass the sensor entirely. Soenksen said that the technology could be applied in endless ways, from military suits that can detect harmful chemical agents to lab coats that test for drug-resistant bacteria.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, people all across the globe have started using facemasks to prevent the spread of infection from one person to the other.
Also the government and health ministries of several countries are encouraging people to wear facemasks whenever they step outside their home. But till date the efficacy of the facemasks in controlling the spread of COVID-19 is not determined.
The researchers said the testing sensitivity is comparable to the gold-standard RT-PCR tests, and it turns out results relatively quickly. The device is also inexpensive – without accounting for packaging, the prototype cost five dollars to make, and the final product could be made for even less.
It should be noted that various courts around the world have ruled that RT-PCR tests are not suitable for COVID-19 diagnosis.
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