Engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University have designed a novel face mask that can diagnose the wearer with COVID-19 within about 90 minutes.
The masks are embedded with tiny, disposable sensors that can be fitted into other face masks and could also be adapted to detect other viruses.
The sensors are based on freeze-dried cellular machinery that the research team has previously developed for use in paper diagnostics for viruses such as Ebola and Zika.
In a new study, the researchers showed that the sensors could be incorporated into not only face masks but also clothing such as lab coats, potentially offering a new way to monitor healthcare workers’ exposure to a variety of pathogens or other threats.
“We’ve demonstrated that we can freeze-dry a broad range of synthetic biology sensors to detect viral or bacterial nucleic acids, as well as toxic chemicals, including nerve toxins. We envision that this platform could enable next-generation wearable biosensors for first responders, health care personnel, and military personnel,” says James Collins, the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and Department of Biological Engineering and the senior author of the study.
The face mask sensors are designed so that they can be activated by the wearer when they’re ready to perform the test, and the results are only displayed on the inside of the mask, for user privacy.
Peter Nguyen, a research scientist at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and Luis Soenksen, a Venture Builder at MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Clinic for Machine Learning in Health and a former postdoc at the Wyss Institute, are the lead authors of the paper, which appears today in Nature Biotechnology.
The researchers are currently looking for commercial manufacturers interested in mass producing the COVID-19-detecting face mask.