A prototype face mask which is said to be capable of detecting Covid-19 infections from the wearer’s breath has recently been created in the US.
Researchers from the Wyss Institute at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology believe they have found a way to create wearable biosensors that can be customised to detect pathogens.
The button-activated mask, which uses a sensor technology, takes just over an hour - at around 90 minutes - to find out whether the person wearing it is infected with coronavirus.
They are embedded with small disposable sensors that can be fitted into other face masks. They could also be adapted to detect other viruses, according to the Wyss Institute.
But the “flexible” wearable biosensors can also be integrated into fabric to create clothing that can detect pathogens and environmental toxins and alert the wearer.
The person wearing the sensor would be alerted through a companion smartphone app which allows the wearer to monitor their exposure to a vast array of substances, researchers said.
Study senior author Professor James Collins, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): “We’ve demonstrated that we can freeze-dry a broad range of synthetic biology sensors to detect viral or bacterial nucleic acids, as well as toxic chemicals, including nerve toxins.
“We envision that this platform could enable next-generation wearable biosensors for first responders, health care personnel, and military personnel.”
Co-author Nina Donghia, a Staff Scientist at the Wyss Institute, added: “This technology could be incorporated into lab coats for scientists working with hazardous materials or pathogens, scrubs for doctors and nurses, or the uniforms of first responders and military personnel who could be exposed to dangerous pathogens or toxins, such as nerve gas.”
The sensors - which are based on freeze-dried cellular machinery - can also be designed to produce different types of signals, including colour change which can alert the wearer if it detects a virus.
Researchers at MIT and the Wyss Institute found a small amount of liquid containing viral particles can hydrate the freeze-dried cell components and activate the sensor.
The new wearable sensors and diagnostic face mask are based on technology that Prof. Collins began developing several years ago in 2014.