A team of engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University has designed a novel face mask with biosensor technology that can diagnose the wearer with COVID-19 within about 90 minutes.
The novel face masks are embedded with tiny, disposable sensors that can be fitted into other face masks and clothing such as lab coats, potentially offering a new way to monitor exposure to a variety of pathogens or other threats.
The sensors are based on freeze-dried cellular machinery that the research team has previously developed for use in paper diagnostics for viruses such as Ebola and Zika.
The study, “Wearable materials with embedded synthetic biology sensors for biomolecule detection,” has been published in the Nature Biotechnology journal. These wearable biosensors have been installed in standard KN95 face masks to identify if the virus was present in a person’s breath.
How does it work?
Researchers said that one can activate sensors with a button and the readout strip reflects results within 90 minutes. Not just that, the accuracy level is just the same as the standard PCR COVID-19 tests, they added.
The mask has freeze-dried components of the sensor embedded inside of it into the synthetic fabric where they are surrounded by a ring of silicone elastomer. These can then be activated by adding water. The mask also contains a small reservoir of water that is released by clicking a button.
The water can then hydrate the components of the SARS-COV-2 sensor which can then read the accumulated breath droplets on the inside of the mask and produce a result within 90 minutes. The results are displayed inside of the mask for privacy.
The freeze-dried molecular machinery can be used to read DNA and produce RNA and proteins. Compartmentalising the components prevents the sample from evaporating or diffusing away from the sensor.
Mr. Peter Nguyen, a research scientist at the Wyss Institute and co-author of the study, said that the team essentially brought an entire diagnostic laboratory into a small, synthetic biology-based sensor that works with any face mask, adding, that it had the high accuracy of PCR tests with the speed and low cost of antigen tests.