A small team of scientists from MIT and Harvard are researching a simple, yet unique and effective way of detecting coronavirus -- a mask. The team is developing a face mask that lights up when it detects coronavirus. A fluorescent signal is emitted when a person with COVID coughs, breathes or sneezes nearby. If this technology proves successful, it would not only curb the spread of coronavirus, detection of the virus by medical professionals would also become easier.
Jim Collins who started working on virus sensors at his bioengineering laboratory in 2014 was crafting a technology that could detect the Zika virus. Now, they are reworking the technology to identify coronavirus, as mentioned in a report in Business Insider.
This technology could also wash out the flaws that come with other screening methods such as temperature checks. Not only transit systems such as airports and railways, this mask could be used for personal use as well as for hospitals as they screen in-coming patients. It could even be used for doctors to diagnose patients without having to send samples to a lab.
Collins said that the lab's project is in very early stages now but results have been promising. The team is also exploring other designs, for instance, they are debating whether the sensor should be placed inside the mask or developed as a module to attach to other masks. The team aims to demonstrate the concept in the next few weeks.
The general technology of the sensor was already proven. It could detect SARS, influenza, hepatitis C, measles and other viruses by 2018.
The sensors consist of DNA and RNA that binds to a virus and is freeze-dried onto the fabric using a machine called lyophilizer. The machine sucks the moisture out of the genetic material without killing it, giving the mask a months-long shelf life. The sensor detects moisture and a virus' genetic sequence. The sensors require a small quantity to spot the virus. Once it detects, it gives out a fluorescent signal that is not visible to the naked eye but can be measured by a device called flourimeter.
Collins is a pioneer in synthetic technology and received the MacArthur Genius Grant in 2003. In 2018, his lab won a $50,000 grant from Johnson & Johnson.