Researchers Develop Face Mask With Built-In Sensors That Test for COVID
Just because mask mandates are being loosened for average citizens doesn’t mean there’s no demand for innovation. Researchers at MIT and Harvard have developed a new face mask that could greatly benefit medical workers by detecting COVID-19 within about 90 minutes.
According to Psych News Daily, the masks feature small, disposable sensors that fit into face masks the way filters fit into reusable face masks available to the public today.
This development has implications beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, as the sensors reportedly could detect other viruses with some adaptation. It also goes just beyond masks, as the researchers said that the technology could be used on lab coats, providing a way for health care workers to monitor exposure to pathogens.
“This test is as sensitive as the gold standard, highly sensitive PCR tests, but it’s as fast as the antigen tests that are used for quick analysis of COVID-19,” the study’s co-author, Peter Nguyen, told Psych News Daily.
The test sensors are based off of paper diagnostics for viruses like Ebola and Zika. The user activates the test in the mask, and the result is displayed on the inside of the mask for privacy.
The researchers created the product by embedding freeze-dried sensors onto a paper mask, similarly to how Zika and Ebola tests are applied to paper tests, and surroundinh the sensors with silicone. Inside the mask, there’s a “small reservoir of water” that is released when the test is activated, which hydrates the freeze-dried test strip and analyzes accumulated breath droplets inside the mask.
If this becomes mainstream and is adapted onto wearable uniform products like lab coats or scrubs, it could create another means of protection for frontline workers and prevent the spread of infectious pathogens.
“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,” the study’s co-author, Nina Donghia, told Psych News Daily.
The research team has filed a patent, and hopes to apply the technology first to masks.
“I think the face mask is probably the most advanced and the closest to a product,” co-author James Collins told Psych News Daily. “We have already had a lot of interest from outside groups that would like to take the prototype efforts we have and advance them to an approved, marketed product.”
Once that happens, it’s safe to say that this technology will be sought after by a wide range of customer verticals. And, if it becomes more common and available, could become the norm for medical, science and military workers.