Face mask detects respiratory viruses, warns user

Scientists from Shanghai Tongji University in China have created a face mask that can alert the wearer to the presence of respiratory viruses in the environment, including the viruses behind COVID-19 and flu. The mask contains aptamers, which are short DNA or RNA sequences that can bind to protein targets. When viral particles bind to the aptamers, ion-gated transistors amplify the signal so that the mask can sensitively detect small amounts of virus. The mask sends a message to the wearer’s smartphone within 10 minutes of detecting the virus. The technology could be very valuable for healthcare professionals or vulnerable patients at high risk of serious illness.

Face masks have been a cornerstone in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The simple and effective barrier function that such masks perform has undoubtedly contributed to limiting the spread of SARS‑CoV‑2. But what if our masks could do a lot more, by giving us an early warning system that there is viral contamination in the air?

“Previous research has shown that wearing face masks can reduce the risk of spreading and contracting the disease,” said Yin Fang, a researcher involved in the study. “So we wanted to create a mask that can detect the presence of viruses in the air and warn the wearer.”

The team behind this latest study created just that. Their mask not only detects SARS‑CoV‑2, but it can also identify two different flu strains (H5N1 and H1N1). With the southern hemisphere experiencing a significant flu flare-up this year, after two years without much flu activity, such technologies could be helpful for vulnerable patients who could develop serious complications if they caught the flu or COVID-19.

The mask is based on aptamers, synthetic molecules made using DNA or RNA, but acting somewhat like antibodies that bind specific molecules such as proteins. The aptamers in the mask are specific for SARS‑CoV‑2, H5N1, and H1N1. If such virus particles are present in the air around the mask wearer, they will bind to the aptamers in the mask. Ion-gated transistors present in the mask sensor then help amplify this signal, allowing the mask to make very sensitive measurements.

The mask then sends a signal to the wearer’s smartphone within 10 minutes to warn them of the presence of viral particles. The researchers are working on reducing this time to make the system as fast and usable as possible.

Study in magazine Matter: Portable bioelectronic masks for wireless detection of respiratory infectious diseases from gaseous media

Via: Cell Press

Leave a Comment