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Researchers developing a mask that lights up when it detects the Covid-19 virus

By Cookie Monster - on 15 May 2020, 12:00am

Researchers developing a mask that lights up when it detects the Covid-19 virus

Surgical mask. <br>Image source: FDA

Harvard and MIT researchers are developing a face mask that lights up when it detects the Covid-19 virus.

The face mask has special sensors that produce a fluorescent signal when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes. The sensors can be embedded on the inside of the mask or be part of a module that can be attached to any over-the-counter mask.

The researchers have been developing these virus-identifying sensors since 2014 to detect the Ebola and Zika viruses. The sensors are made up of genetic material - DNA and RNA - that binds to a virus. The sensors are freeze-dried onto fabric using a lyophilizer and can remain stable at room temperature for many months.

For the sensors to activate and emit the fluorescent signal, they have to be exposured to moisture and need to detect a virus' genetic sequence. Only a small segment of the genetic sequence is required for the sensors to emit the fluorescent signal within one to three hours. 

The fluorescent signal is not visible to the naked eyes, and requires the use of a flourimeter to be visible. The researchers say handheld flourimeters, which cost about a dollar each, can be used to scan the mask. 

The project is in the "very early stages", but results have been promising. The researchers are testing the ability of the sensors to detect the Covid-19 virus in a small saliva sample and hope to demonstrate that the concept works in the next few weeks. Once it is proven to work, they will set up trials with volunteers to see if it works in real-world settings. 

The technology behind the sensors is already proven; it can detect viruses that cause SARS, measles, influenza, hepatitis C and West Nile. If this project is successful, the face masks with sensors may offer a cheaper, quicker and more accurate detection method. They could be a replacement for temperature checks at airports.

Source: Business Insider