Our breath holds a multitude of biomarkers, including potentially those indicating the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. Those infected with the virus are prone to exhale proteases, enzymes that speed up the breakdown of proteins, related to the new virus. This has led researchers at University of California, San Diego to work on developing a wearable sensor that can be attached to masks to detect the presence of these proteases and therefore the COVID-19 virus.
“In many ways, masks are the perfect ‘wearable’ sensor for our current world,” said Jesse Jokerst, professor of nanoengineering at UC San Diego, who is the lead researcher of this project, in a press release. “We’re taking what many people are already wearing and repurposing them, so we can quickly and easily identify new infections and protect vulnerable communities.”
The sensor, which is in the process of being perfected, consists of a strip similar to a pregnancy test with small blister pack compartment. The strip’s surface would collect particles from exhaled breath. Once a test is desired, the user simply squeezes on the blister pack, which mixes special nanoparticles with the proteases that may exist on the strip’s surface. If they do, the color changes, indicating the presence of the proteases and therefore the virus.
Such technology will probably not replace proper laboratory testing for the sake of diagnosis, but it would certainly help to monitor the virus in an efficient way. The researchers believe that the cost would be low enough to make this possible, since producing each test strip should be possible for only a few cents.
“Think of this as a surveillance approach, similar to having a smoke detector in your house,” added Jokerst. “This would just sit in the background every day and if it gets triggered, then you know there’s a problem and that’s when you would look into it with more sophisticated testing. We want this to be affordable enough for daily testing.”
Related study in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces: KN95 and N95 Respirators Retain Filtration Efficiency despite a Loss of Dipole Charge during Decontamination