Scientists have developed a face mask that can detect the coronavirus in just 10 minutes.
The mask is supposedly highly sensitive and is able to identify common respiratory viruses such as Covid-19 and influenza by the droplets or aerosols that are present in the air.
The mask wearers are alerted via an app on their phones.
These virus-containing molecules have a protracted suspension time in the atmosphere, especially the tiny aerosols which are released by infected people when they talk, cough, or sneeze.
“Previous research has shown face mask wearing can reduce the risk of spreading and contracting the disease. So, we wanted to create a mask that can detect the presence of virus in the air and alert the wearer,” said Dr Yin Fang, the study’s corresponding author and a material scientist at Shanghai Tongji University.
He adds, “Our mask would work really well in spaces with poor ventilation, such as elevators or enclosed rooms, where the risk of getting infected is high.”
The sensor in the mask contains aptamers, a type of synthetic molecule that can identify proteins in pathogens.
Aptamers can recognise particular proteins of pathogens like antibodies, and they were used by the research team to create a tiny sensor.
The team reportedly changed the multi-channel sensor in their proof-of-concept design so that it could simultaneously recognise the surface proteins on the SARS-CoV-2, H5N1, and H1N1 viruses, the Mint informs.
Thus, the mask can also detect swine flu and bird flu.
The mask was tested by researchers in China by spraying liquid containing virus proteins onto the mask in an enclosed chamber.
According to the findings that were published in the journal Matter, the sensor responded to just 0.3 microlitres of the liquid which is reportedly between 70 and 560 times less than the amount of liquid produced by one sneeze, and even less than the amount created by coughing or talking, The Telegraph reports.
Even smaller quantities of viral proteins reportedly obtained a response from the sensor.
The researchers state that once the aptamers bind to the virus proteins in the air, an ion-gated transistor alerts wearers to the pathogens via their phones.
The mask supposedly swiftly detects even minute levels of airborne viruses due to the novel and extremely sensitive device called an ion-gated transistor.
Ion-gated transistor is an effective transistor architecture for enabling integrated, real-time sensing and stimulation of signals from living organisms, Science Advances explains.
Dr Yin Fang affirms, “In the future if a new respiratory virus emerges, we can easily update the sensor’s design for detecting the novel pathogens.”
He is quoted as saying, “Currently, doctors have been relying heavily on their experiences in diagnosing and treating diseases. But with richer data collected by wearable devices, disease diagnosis and treatment can become more precise.”
The team now wants to develop the mask to detect diseases even faster and create wearable devices that can help people manage other illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.