Similar to a classic pregnancy test, a color-changing strip may be mounted on masks in the future to detect the presence of COVID-19 in the air you breathed that day, allowing everyone to check for themselves the environments they pass through.
The project was launched by nanoengineers at UC San Diego with a $ 1.3 million grant from the NIH Rapid Radical Diagnostics Acceleration (RADx) program.
The scientists created a small test kit to attach to the front of any mask, which can be mass-produced at a cost of about 3 cents per kit.
After breathing through the mask for 4-5 hours, there will be enough particles available to determine if you were in contact with the virus the entire time, or if you may have contracted it.
“In many ways, masks are the perfect ‘wearable’ sensor for our world today,” said Jesse Jokerst, professor of nanoengineering at the University of California and project leader. “We are taking what many people are already using and reusing them, so that we can quickly and easily identify new infections and protect vulnerable communities.”
To detect the virus, the user would break a small blister pack that would immediately cover the test kit with a liquid that would indicate the presence of proteases, molecules that cut proteins produced from the coronavirus.
The NIH grant program totals $ 107 million and is being awarded to 49 projects at 43 institutions seeking “non-traditional viral detection approaches, such as biological or physiological markers, new analytical platforms with novel chemistry or engineering, detection strategies rapid, point-of-care devices and home testing technologies. “
A breakthrough for the future
Despite the test strip turning blue or red, Jokerst said the product would represent more of a working smoke detector.
“Think of this as a surveillance approach, similar to having a smoke detector in your home,” he said. “This would just take a backseat every day and if it triggers then you know there is a problem and that’s when you would investigate it with more sophisticated testing.”
Perfect for prisons, homeless shelters, nursing homes, dialysis clinics, or other areas where people need to stay in close proximity, the kits could prevent outbreaks from escalating into epidemics, and while Jesse understands that by the time his idea is mass produced, it may not even come this year, the vaccination program could have COVID-19 under control.
But, his test also turns red for the original 2003 SARS virus, as well as MERS, which means he thinks they could be used, as a rapid and rapidly deployable weapon, for future pandemics originating from coronavirus.
“To solve a problem as complicated as COVID-19, we need ideas, tools and technologies that challenge the way we think about controlling the pandemic,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, Ph.D., in a statement.
“These awards from the RADx-rad program provide excellent examples of innovative concepts that will help us overcome this pandemic and provide us with a set of devices and tactics to deal with future outbreaks.”
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