Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University (USA) have designed an innovative mask that can diagnose the user of Covid-19 in approximately 90 minutes. In addition, the mask has small disposable sensors that can be placed in other masks facials and can also be tailored to detect other viruses.
The sensors are based on lyophilized cells previously developed for use in the diagnosis of other viruses, such as Ebola and Zika.
In this study, published in Nature Biotechnology, the researchers showed that the sensors could be incorporated not only into face masks, but also into clothes like lab coats, which could offer a new way to monitor the exposure of healthcare professionals to a variety of pathogens or other threats.
«We have shown that we can freeze a wide range of synthetic biology sensors to detect viral or bacterial nucleic acids, as well as toxic chemicals, including nerve toxins. We anticipate that this platform could enable next-generation portable biosensors for the first time first responders, healthcare personnel, and military personnel, ”he says. James Collins, lead author of the study.
The sensors in the face mask are designed so that the user you can turn them on when you’re ready to test, and the results are only displayed inside the mask, for the user privacy.
The new wearable sensors and diagnostic face mask are based on technology that began to develop years ago.
These components of the cell-free circuit are lyophilize and remain stable for many months, until they rehydrate. When activated with water, they can interact with their target molecule, which can be any RNA or DNA sequence, as well as other types of molecules, and produce a signal such as a color change.
To make wearable sensors, the researchers incorporated their lyophilized components in a small section of synthetic fabric, where they are surrounded by a silicone elastomer ring. This compartmentalization prevents the sample from evaporating or diffusing out of the sensor. To demonstrate the technology, the researchers created a jacket embedded with about 30 of these sensors.
They showed that a small splash of liquid containing viral particles, mimicking exposure to an infected patient, can hydrate lyophilized cellular components and activate the sensor. The sensors can be designed to produce different types of signals, including a color change that can be seen with the naked eye, or a fluorescent or luminescent signal, which can be read with a handheld spectrometer. The researchers also designed a portable spectrometer It could be embedded in the web, where you can read the results and transmit them wirelessly to a mobile device.
Researchers were finishing their work on wearable sensors in early 2020, Covid-19 began to spread around the world, so they quickly decided to try using their technology to create a diagnosis for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
To produce their diagnostic face mask, the researchers incorporated the lyophilized sensors into a paper mask. As with portable sensors, the lyophilized components are surrounded by silicone elastomer. In this case, the sensors are placed inside the mask, so that they can detect viral particles in the breath of the person wearing the mask.
The mask also includes a small water reservoir that is released with the push of a button when the user is ready to perform the test. This hydrates the lyophilized components of the SARS-CoV-2 sensor, which adds breath drops to the inside of the mask and produces a result in 90 minutes.
“The test is test is as sensitive as PCR and as fast as the antigen tests used for rapid analysis of Covid-19,” the researchers say.
The prototypes developed in this study have sensors inside the mask to detect the state of a user, as well as sensors placed on the outside of the garments, to detect exposure to the environment.
Researchers can also swap sensors for other pathogens, such as flu, Ebola, and Zika.