The Masks With Sensors: Detect Covid-19 in Record Time
A team from MIT and Harvard Universities have been working toward it for weeks. They are still in the testing phase, but they assure that the results are very promising and that they could be distributed in late summer.
“Evidence, evidence, and evidence,” I told the director-general of WHO, Adhanom Ghebreyesus in March. All countries should carry out tests to detect coronavirus cases and thus have greater control over the disease.
It may not be an easy task and many countries have not done it for this reason. Current detection systems are slow and expensive, like PCR, or do not always detect the virus, such as serology. They are better than nothing, without a doubt; but to improve them other faster methods are being investigated. Scanners, drones, or the newer ones that use sensors in police helmets or clothing are some of them.
We now know the case of masks that detect Covid-19. Now that its use is increasingly widespread, and that in some countries such as Spain it is mandatory, your news is more interesting and useful than ever. Can you imagine that your mask, the one you carry with you everywhere, tells you if you have been infected?
Well, it is not a fantasy, but it is closer than you think to become a reality. A scientific team from MIT and Harvard universities have been working on it for weeks. It is still in the testing phase but says the results are promising and could be distributed to the public in late summer.
“We’d love it to be sooner, but our team is relatively small,” says Jim Collins, who leads the research, to Business Insider. “We work as hard as we can.”
How can they recognize him?
The key is in sensors that are incorporated. These sensors are designed to recognize the virus when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes. The emitted particles come into contact with the sensors, where they have previously recorded the genetic sequence of the virus.
This detection could last several weeks at room temperature. To achieve this, they engrave the genetic material on the cloth or the mask material using a machine, the lyophilizer, which is also used, for example, in food preservation.
And after detecting the virus?
The masks detect Covid-19 and then turn on. At the moment, yes, the signal they emit is very slight and is barely visible to the naked eye, so in the experiments carried out in the laboratory they use a device that helps in the task, the fluorimeter. We understand that part of the work that lies ahead involves perfecting this aspect.
However, the horizon is positive. In another similar investigation in 2018, also led by Jim Collins at MIT, they managed to detect several viruses and that the laboratory sensors illuminated in different colours, from yellow to purple. Will they achieve the same in masks?
Your main advantages: fast and affordable
It would certainly be very comfortable. Above all, because unlike other detection methods, this one is almost instantaneous in its diagnosis. According to the estimates of the team that develops it, in two or three hours, it can already confirm the presence of the virus; considerably less time than PCR, which can take 24 hours to diagnose, even longer, in addition to having to send samples to a laboratory for analysis.
If we look for faster methods than PCR, there are, yes; but they are less reliable, because they do not evaluate the virus, but its symptoms. Serology allows us to know if a person has developed antibodies against this disease, but these do not arise immediately after being infected but take about a week. In the case of systems that measure body temperature, they detect fever, which usually occurs when sick with coronavirus. But we know that there are people who are infected and who do not have it. Does a system serve to detect most, but not all, cases?