The highly-sensitive face covering can detect the novel bug in the air and alert the wearer via an app on their phone. It can also pick up swine flu and bird flu.
Those diseases spread through droplets in the air released by infected people when they talk, cough or sneeze.
The tiny, invisible molecules can remain suspended in the air for a long time and people catch illnesses by breathing in a big cluster of the molecules as they lurk.
“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,” explains Yin Fang, the study’s corresponding author and a material scientist at Shanghai Tongji University.
Respiratory pathogens that cause COVID-19 and H1N1 influenza spread through small droplets and aerosols released by infected people when they talk, cough, and sneeze. These virus-containing molecules, especially tiny aerosols, can remain suspended in the air for a long time.
The team designed a small sensor containing aptamers, which are a type of synthetic molecule that can identify unique proteins in pathogens like antibodies.
In their proof-of-concept design, the team modified the multi-channel sensor with three types of aptamers, which can simultaneously recognize surface proteins on SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19), H5N1 (bird flu), and H1N1 (swine flu).
Once the aptamers bind to the target virus proteins in the air, a gadget called an ion-gated transistor connected will amplify the signal and alert the wearers to the pathogens via their phones. An ion-gated transistor is a novel type of device that is highly sensitive, and thus the mask can detect even trace levels of pathogens in the air within 10 minutes.
Fang and his colleagues tested the mask in an enclosed chamber by spraying the viral surface protein containing trace-level liquid and aerosols on the mask. The sensor responded to as little as 0.3 microliters of liquid containing viral proteins, about 70 to 560 times less than the volume of liquid produced in one sneeze and much less than the volume produced by coughing or talking.
“Our mask would work really well in spaces with poor ventilation, such as lifts or enclosed rooms, where the risk of getting infected is high,” Fang says.
“In the future, if a new respiratory virus emerges, we can easily update the sensor’s design for detecting the novel pathogens.”
Next, the team hopes to shorten the detection time and further increase the sensitivity of the sensor by optimizing the design of the polymers and transistors. They are also working on wearable devices for a variety of health conditions including cancers and cardiovascular diseases.
“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,” Fang says.
The team now want to make the mask detect diseases even faster and create wearable devices that can help people manage other illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.
The findings were published in the journal Matter.
The work is supported by National Key Research and Development Program, National Natural Science Foundation of China, Science and Technology Commission of Shanghai Municipality, Shanghai Municipal Science and Technology Major Project and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities.
- Bingfang Wang, Deqi Yang, Zhiqiang Chang, Ru Zhang, Jing Dai, Yin Fang. Wearable bioelectronic masks for wireless detection of respiratory infectious diseases by gaseous media. Matter, 2022; DOI: 10.1016/j.matt.2022.08.020
* This article was automatically syndicated and expanded from The Independent.
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