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Harvard and MIT researchers develop a chinstrap that turns on when it detects

A female doctor wearing a chinstrap during a check-up visit in Nizaumuddin, New Delhi, India (REUTERS / Adnan Abidi)
A female doctor wearing a chinstrap during a check-up visit in Nizaumuddin, New Delhi, India (REUTERS / Adnan Abidi)

Researchers at Harvard and MIT Universities are designing a chinstrap capable of producing a fluorescent signal when a person with a coronavirus breathes, coughs, or sneezes. This tool would allow diagnoses to be carried out almost instantaneously and quickly, which could be of great help in the context of the pandemic.

This development, which is still in a very incipient stage, is part of a previous project that researcher Jim Collins started at the MIT bioengineering laboratory in 2014. Back then, together with his team, he began to develop sensors that could detect the Ebola virus on paper. Two years later, researchers from that university and Harvard published their research where they explained the use of this technology to apply it to the Zika virus.

The technology is capable of identifying viruses that cause SARS, measles, influenza, hepatitis C, and other diseases. The objective now is to bring this technology to produce a chinstrap that, based on the same concept, is capable of identifying Covid-19, as mentioned in an article by Business Insider.

Passengers with masks in a subway car during the first day in which the use of masks is mandatory in public transport during the outbreak of the new coronavirus disease (REUTERS / Susana Vera)
Passengers with masks in a subway car during the first day in which the use of masks is mandatory in public transport during the outbreak of the new coronavirus disease (REUTERS / Susana Vera)

The researchers are evaluating whether they will add the sensors directly to special masks or whether they will develop a separate module capable of being incorporated into any over-the-counter mask. LThe sensors are made up of genetic material that is capable of binding to the virus. This material is then lyophilized (dehydration by freezing) on ​​the fabric using a machine, which absorbs the moisture from the genetic material.

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In order for the sensors to activate and function, they need moisture, which in the case of the body is produced, for example, through saliva or mucus and then identify the genetic sequence of the virus. If they identify it, they emit a signal that, since it cannot be identified with the naked eye, the researchers propose that a device called a fluorimeter be used. that already exists in the market and could be used by the authorities, doctors or whoever corresponds to measure the level of fluorescence in the chinstrap and thus know if the person has coronavirus or not.

This solution would be an easy diagnostic proposal, an alternative to other tests that already exist and are being used. The benefits are speed and simplicity. And the other point in favor is that it works on the genetic material which would allow the virus to be identified even when the person has not developed symptoms.

The different diagnostic methods

Currently, on the one hand, PCR tests (Polymer Chain Reaction), which allows to detect a fragment of the genetic material of a pathogen or microorganism, in this case the coronavirus. Doing so takes a few hours and the results are in 24 or 48 hours, sometimes longer. They are the most accurate and used today in the world for their diagnostic effectiveness.

On the other hand, calls are made serological tests also known as "rapid tests" that identify the presence of antibodies in the blood. It should be noted here that a person may be transiting the disease and not yet have developed antibodies. It may take 7 to 8 days to develop antibodies approximately.

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A swab sampling for a PCR test at a market in Kathmandu, Nepal (REUTERS / Navesh Chitrakar)
A swab sampling for a PCR test at a market in Kathmandu, Nepal (REUTERS / Navesh Chitrakar)

"It is important to know that PCR of the viral genome is the only system that we currently have to identify, at any given moment, the presence of the pathogen. Therefore, this diagnostic test reports whether the person, even if asymptomatic, can be contagious.

On the other hand, the serology or rapid test allows us to know if a person has antibodies against the virus, that is, if his body has reacted against it, he has already fought it. IgM antibodies appear initially and last a short time –weeks–, while IgG antibodies appear a little later and remain high for a long time, providing protection against this virus strain, "stresses in an article by Naomi Schalit published in The Conversation.

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Sam Conley is new to online journalism but she is keen to learn. She is an MBA from a reputed university. She brings together relevant news pieces from various industries. She loves to share quick news updates. She is always in search of interesting news so that she can share them as well to Sunriseread's readers who could enjoy them with their morning coffee.

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