New wearable tech makes COVID-19 detection fast, user friendly
A facemask has been developed by researchers at Harvard and MIT that can detect whether someone is infected with COVID-19.
Activated by pressing a button, the mask is able to determine within 90 minutes whether a wearer has COVID particles in their breath.
Results are delivered in a similar way to that of a take-home pregnancy test and are as accurate as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test (considered the gold standard for COVID testing), according to researchers.
The findings were published this week in the science journal Nature Biotechnology and appear to be a step forward as the world grapples with how to determine who is safe to travel freely.
“We have essentially shrunk an entire diagnostic laboratory down into a small, synthetic biology-based sensor that works with any face mask,” Peter Nguyen, a research scientist at the Wyss Institute and co-author of the study told The Boston Globe. “In addition to face masks, our programmable biosensors can be integrated into other garments to provide on-the-go detection of dangerous substances.”
The mask uses wearable freeze-dried cell-free technology and is the result of three years of research, which began during the Zika virus outbreak of 2015.
Researchers shifted their focus to making the technology wearable and focused on COVID-19 after the global pandemic began sweeping the globe around the beginning of 2020.
“We worked hard, sometimes bringing non-biological equipment home and assembling devices manually,” Luis Soenksen, a medical device expert at MIT and co-author of the study told The Boston Globe. “It was definitely different from the usual lab infrastructure we’re used to working under, but everything we did has helped us ensure that the sensors would work in real-world pandemic conditions.”
In addition to detecting whether or not a wearer is carrying the COVID virus, it is also able to detect any exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Users are able to monitor any harmful pathogens they may encounter through a smartphone app.
Nina Donghia, a staff scientist at the Wyss Institute, told The Boston Globe the technology will be especially helpful to emergency responders and those that work in areas where they are potentially exposed to dangerous fumes.
“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,” Donghia said.
Research for the mask was funded by Harvard University, Johnson & Johnson, and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, among others.