Sensors have revolutionized medical diagnostic in numerous ways. From highly elastic sensors that behave like silly putty to spectrophotometers that can monitor a series of biometrics through infrared light,  these small devices are becoming increasingly complex and they continue to provide more comprehensive insight into human health.


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Wearable, Accurate Testing For Various Pathogens

One of the most relevant medical sensor innovations comes in the form of a face mask that can be used to detect the presence of viruses, including SARS CoV-2, more commonly known as Covid-19. Designed by engineers at MIT and Harvard University, the special face mask is made with small disposable sensors that can detect the presence of Covid-19 in about 90 minutes with accuracy that is on par with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

The technology behind the mask is based on freeze-dried cellular machinery developed for the diagnostics of  Ebola and Zika. By freeze-drying special synthetic biology sensors, it’s possible to detect various viral and bacterial indicators, as well as the presence of certain toxic chemicals.

A surgical mask (left) and an FFP1 mask (right) often used to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Credit:

The sensor-equipped mask is one of the newest developments to utilize wearable sensors, also called wearables, for diagnostic purposes. In the case of detecting pathogens, synthetic gene networks can be created to react to specific molecules. The networks are then embedded into paper, which is freeze-dried to maintain a stable shelf-life. Once they’re rehydrated, the sensors will be activated to interact with targeted molecules. The paper can be easily woven into many different fabrics, including the cotton used in face masks or polyester used in lab coats, cloth gloves, etc.

For Care Providers And Researchers

Wearers of the diagnostic protective mask can activate the test when they choose. For privacy purposes, the results will be displayed on the interior of the mask. Such a capability could be vital for front-line healthcare providers and researchers working with potentially dangerous pathogens and toxic substances. Researchers have also combined the technology with a wearable spectrometer that could wirelessly transmit essential data to a mobile device, including alerts on where the exposure occurred.

Currently, the diagnostic face mask is a purely experimental technology, but commercial prototyping may be on the horizon.

What do you think of this and other wearable medical sensors? Comment with your thoughts.

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