Scientists have developed a mask that can detect common respiratory viruses, such as influenza and Covid-19, in the air as droplets or aerosols. If there is a specific virus in the surrounding air, the extremely sensitive mask can notify the wearer via their mobile device within 10 minutes.
“Previous research has shown that wearing a mask can reduce the risk of infection and spread. So we wanted to create a mask that could detect the presence of viruses in the air and warning to the wearer,” said Yin Fang, the study’s corresponding person. author and a materials scientist at Shanghai Tongji University.
The respiratory pathogens that cause COVID-19 and H1N1 flu are spread through droplets and aerosols released by infected people when they talk, cough, and sneeze. These virus-containing molecules, especially small aerosols, can remain suspended in the air for a long time.
Fang and his colleagues tested the mask in a closed chamber by spraying a liquid-containing viral surface protein and a micro-level aerosol onto the mask. The sensor responds to as little as 0.3 microliters of liquid containing viral proteins, Fang said, which is about 70 to 560 times less than the volume of liquid produced in a sneeze and much less than the volume. produced when coughing or speaking.
The team designed a small sensor with aptamers, a type of synthetic molecule that can identify unique proteins of pathogens such as antibodies. In their proof-of-concept design, the team modified the multichannel sensor with three types of aptamers, which can simultaneously recognize surface proteins on SARS-CoV-2, H5N1, and H1N1.
As the aptamers bind to target proteins in the air, the ion-connected transistor amplifies the signal and alerts the wearer via their phone. The ionized transistor is a new type of device with high sensitivity, and thus the mask can detect even trace levels of airborne pathogens within 10 minutes.
“Our masks will work really well in spaces with poor ventilation, such as elevators or enclosed rooms, where there is a high risk of infection,” says Fang. In the future, if a new respiratory virus emerges, they can easily update the sensor’s design to detect new pathogens, he added.
Next, the team hopes to shorten the detection time and further increase the sensitivity of the sensor by optimizing the design of the polymer and the transistor. They are also working on wearable devices for various health conditions including cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
“Currently, doctors mainly rely on their experience in diagnosing and treating diseases. But with richer data collected by wearable devices, the diagnosis and treatment of diseases can be made possible. become more precise,” said Fang.