The strips can be affixed to any mask and are designed to detect “protein-cleaving molecules” produced from an infection of the virus, the university said in a news release Thursday.
While not intended to replace COVID-19 testing protocols, the project’s lead principal investigator Jesse Jokerst said they offer a “surveillance approach,” similar to a smoke detector.
“In many ways, masks are the perfect ‘wearable’ sensor for our current world,” said Jokerst, professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. “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.”
Users would be able to conduct the tests themselves when they take off their respective masks, researchers say. Each comes with its own blister pack that can be squeezed, changing color if SARS-CoV-2 proteases are identified, according to the university.
The strips — developed with $1.3 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health — are ideal for higher risk settings such as homeless shelters or prisons to find infections earlier and more often to reduce potential spread, Jokerst said.
Researchers are working with the UC San Diego School of Medicine to test out the strips on COVID-19 positive samples. They also plan to conduct trials on patients and health care workers within the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System.
“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,” Jokerst said.
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