July 15, 2021Erica Tennenhouse, PhD
Researchers have engineered a face mask that can detect SARS-CoV-2 in the wearer’s exhaled breath. The button-activated mask provides results within 90 minutes at ambient temperature, with a detection limit similar to that of standard PCR testing.
Writing in Nature Biotechnology in June 2021, the researchers describe their new technology, which consists of three sequential reactions: the first cuts open the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ membrane to expose its RNA; the second makes numerous double-stranded copies of the spike-coding gene from the viral RNA; and the third uses CRISPR-based SHERLOCK technology to detect any spike gene fragments, and responds by cutting a probe molecule into two smaller pieces that are then reported via a lateral flow assay strip.
The result is indicated by a color change or fluorescent/luminescent signal. The detector can also be linked to a wireless mobile application for real-time data analysis and monitoring.
According to the researchers, this is the first wearable technology to detect viral or bacterial nucleic acid signatures in fluid samples with sensitivities rivaling those of traditional laboratory tests at ambient temperatures. They say it could potentially be used by clinicians, health care workers, and researchers working in high-risk environments.
Limitations of the technology include the single-use nature of the sensors and their inability to operate under certain environmental conditions, like high humidity.