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Harvard, MIT working to create face mask that can diagnose if wearer has coronavirus

Harvard, MIT working to create face mask that can diagnose if wearer has coronavirus
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Researchers from Harvard and MIT are working to create a face mask that could detect if the person wearing it has the coronavirus.

The researchers are adjusting the sensors they started developing in 2014 to detect the Ebola virus to address the coronavirus pandemic, MIT researcher Jim Collins told Business Insider

The researchers from MIT and Harvard published their research on the mask in 2016, after they tailored the technology to address the Zika virus. 

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The mask the researchers are developing produces a fluorescent signal when a person with the coronavirus breaths, coughs or sneezes, according to Business Insider. 

The project is in its “very early stages” but the results have been promising, Collins told the outlet. They hope to demonstrate that the concept works within the next few weeks, Business Insider reports. 

"Once we're in that stage, then it would be a matter [of] setting up trials with individuals expected to be infected to see if it would work in a real-world setting," Collins said. 

The research team is testing the sensor’s ability to detect the virus with a small saliva sample. The researchers are also experimenting on putting sensors inside of a mask as well as developing a module that can be attached to other over-the-counter masks. 

The researcher’s virus-identifying technology has proven to work on other viruses, including SARS, measles, influenza, hepatitis C and West Nile, according to Business Insider. 

Collins said that in addition to paper, the technology has been proven to work on plastic, quartz and cloth. 

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The sensors consist of genetic material that binds to a virus. For the sensors to be activated, they need moisture and need to detect a virus’s genetic sequence, according to Business Insider. 

Collins said the mask could potentially be used for diagnosing coronavirus patients, as well as screening in areas of mass transit as coronavirus restrictions are lifted. 

"As we open up our transit system, you could envision it being used in airports as we go through security, as we wait to get on a plane," Collins told Business Insider. "You or I could use it on the way to and from work. Hospitals could use it for patients as they come in or wait in the waiting room as a pre-screen of who's infected."

The lab’s goal is to begin manufacturing the mask for public distribution by the end of summer, Collins told the outlet.