With people donning face masks as part of their work and everyday “uniform” for over a year now, wearing a piece of personal protective equipment that doubles as a testing device would come in handy. A new study published in Nature Biotechnology found that SARS-CoV-2 can be diagnosed through a person’s breath in 90 minutes by using tiny, disposable sensors on a face mask, Infection Control reports.
Researchers with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, both in Cambridge, Massachusetts, created disposable sensors using clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) technology. CRISPR-based tools detect metabolites, chemicals, and pathogen nucleic acid signatures found in pathogens.
The flexible, disposable sensor devices are activated by water. They cut open the SARS-CoV-2 virus, locate the spike-coding gene, and report any spike gene fragments using CRISPR technology. A person wearing a sensor mask simply presses a button, and within 90 minutes they know if they have COVID-19. The results, which consist of pattern of lines, similar to a home pregnancy test, are displayed on the inside of the mask for user privacy.
Peter Nguyen, one of the study’s coauthors and a research scientist at the Wyss Institute of Harvard University, said the sensor technology can test for a variety of pathogens. “In addition to face masks, our programmable biosensors can be integrated into other garments to provide on-the-go detection of dangerous substances including viruses, bacteria, toxins, and chemical agents,” he said.
The sensors can be integrated into lab coats for scientists, scrubs for hospital workers, and uniforms for first responders, added Jim Collins, senior author of the study and a professor of medical engineering and science at MIT.
The researchers have filed for a patent and hope to partner with a company that can help them further develop these sensors.