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Innovative Face Mask Can Detect COVID-19 in Minutes

Face mask COVID
Face masks have become an inseparable part of our lives. Credit: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

A face mask that could offer a COVID-19 diagnosis in approximately 90 minutes was developed by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University.

The innovative creation could help save thousands of lives by detecting a positive case of coronavirus early, offering valuable assistance to many people, particularly those in the frontline of the fight against the pandemic, such as medical and care personnel, as well as educators, members of the armed forces and essential workers.

The masterminds behind this innovative face mask

The team that created this product has been working on something similar for years.

James Collins, Professor of Medical Engineering and Science in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and the Department of Biological Engineering is the senior author of the article that was published recently in the Nature Biotechnology journal.

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, as well as Peter Nguyen, a research scientist at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, are the lead authors of this revolutionary study.

Members of the research team also include Nina Donghia, Nicolaas Angenent-Mari, Helena de Puig, Ally Huang, Rose Lee, Shimyn Slomovic, Tommaso Galbersanini, Geoffrey Lansberry, Hani Sallum, Evan Zhao, and James Niemi.

How the face mask works

According to the study, these face masks are activated upon ”rehydration from aqueous exposure events and report the presence of specific molecular targets by colorimetric changes or via an optical fiber network that detects fluorescent and luminescent outputs.”

In other words, when the tiny sensors that are embedded within the fiber of the mask are activated by water, they can then interact with a particular RNA or DNA sequence (or other molecules) and produce an optical signal.

This can be a visible-to-the-naked-eye color alteration that can alert the individual that the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been detected in his or her body.

According to the authors of this revolutionary study, the detection limits for nucleic acids rival current laboratory methods such as quantitative PCR test.

”We demonstrate the development of a face mask with a lyophilized CRISPR sensor for wearable, noninvasive detection of SARS-CoV-2 at room temperature within 90 minutes, requiring no user intervention other than the press of a button,” the scientists declare.

Quick detection of positive cases is now more needed than ever

The rapid transmission of the Delta variant of the coronavirus in Greece and indeed around the world, particularly among the unvaccinated, is “terrifying,” Panagiotis Arkoumaneas, President of the Greek National Organization for Public Health said recently.

This new situation of the 2021 summer makes the detection of positive cases, and therefore their isolation, more important than ever before.

Greece has been hit by the fast-spreading Delta variant of COVID-19, which was first identified in India, causing an increase in cases in the country.

Of course, Greece is not alone in this trend as almost every European nation as well as most other countries around the globe face a very similar reality.

Although cases of the virus have already spiked in recent weeks, health experts such as Arkoumaneas predict that there will be “an increase in cases this week and next,” and that studies have shown the Delta variant is to blame for the uptick in cases.

Testing of samples taken from those with the virus shows that instances of the Delta variant in Greece have increased by 10% in the last week, and they now account for 60% of the country’s daily cases.

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