As time is advancing, so does technology and other innovations. And during these hard times, a new type of mask might be on the way. A team of researchers at the University of California San Diego (USCD) are creating a colour-changing test strip that can be implanted on a face mask. The stickers are used to detect Covid-19 in the breath or saliva of a mask user. If detected, it will alter colours.
The aim of this project is to provide easy, affordable, and reliable monitoring of Covid-19 infections that can be carried out every day and easily applied in resource-poor settings. This project also received $1.3 million (RM5.3 million) from the National Institutes of Health and is part of the NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Radical program purposeful for Covid-19.
What would make the stickers work?
The researchers will make test strips or stickers that will be able to stick on any mask such as N95, surgical or cloth mask. These will detect the presence of protein-cleaving molecules also known as proteases, which are created from infection with the Covid-19 virus.
Liquid will be released from the blister pack of the strip onto the rest of it when a user takes off the mask. This ensures users that they don’t need to feel concerned about spilling the test liquid on your face. When the liquid is spilled, the colour of the test strip changes to a particular one.
The test strip has a control line that will indicate what a positive result should represent. It would be the same as checking the results of a home pregnancy test.
Is this a replacement for standard testing methods?
Professor of nanoengineering at the University of California San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and also lead principal investigator of the project, Jesse Jokerst, stated that “In many ways, masks are the perfect ‘wearable’ sensor for our current world“. Jokerst said, “We’re taking what many people are already wearing and repurposing them, so we can quickly and easily identify new infections and protect vulnerable communities“.
Moreover, tests are expected to at least cost only a few cents for at least a strip to produce. It’s also great for high-risk locations such as clinics, homeless shelters, and prisons.
Nowadays, Covid-19 tests are pretty expensive. Previously, cheaper Covid-19 tests were offered by a Selangor assemblyman, but can only be carried out by appointment.
A potentially great tool to combat future outbreaks
Jokerst ensured that this technology can help translate to upcoming coronavirus outbursts. The professor stated, “The proteases we’re detecting here are the same ones present in infections with the original SARS virus from 2003 as well as the MERS virus, so it would not be too far of a stretch to imagine that we could still benefit from this work later on should future pandemics emerge“.
Even with efforts of vaccination currently ongoing, this surveillance method could be positioned in other parts of the world where it is not yet obtainable for vaccines or still low in distribution.
A new tool for monitoring #COVID19 may one day be right under your nose: color-changing test strips that can be stuck on masks and used to detect SARS-CoV-2 in a person’s breath or saliva. New project led by @UCSanDiego nanoengineer Jesse Jokerst: https://t.co/WMzlCCpHe6 pic.twitter.com/0pa9BpfQao
— UCSD Engineering (@UCSDJacobs) January 21, 2021
Word of warning
Jokerst mentioned that these strips are not meant to break the ongoing Covid-19 testing protocols.
He also stated, “Think of this as a surveillance approach, similar to having a smoke detector in your house“. Jokerst also said, “This would just sit in the background every day and if it gets triggered, then you know there’s a problem and that’s when you would look into it with more sophisticated testing“.