SAN DIEGO – Researchers at UC San Diego are experimenting with new wearable test strips which change color if they detect the coronavirus in a person’s breath or saliva.
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.
“We wanted to make it easy,” said Jokerst, professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. “We wanted people to use their own mask. So, this is a sticker you put on your mask.”
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, nursing homes or prisons to find infections earlier and more often to reduce potential spread.
Jokerst said the stickers will be disposable and can be replaced daily. That means results come daily, too.
“As you breath in and out, you are sort of concentrating saliva particles and ambient particles in the air over this test strip,” he said. “We are analyzing proteases, which are proteins that eat other proteins and using that to create color change.
“If the test changes colors, there may have been an exposure.”
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.
Jokerst said he anticipates the cost to be around $2 apiece, and said the hope is to mass distribute them before the summer.
“As soon a person is positive, it spreads quickly,” he said. “So, being able to identify it quickly and every day is important. You could really stamp out a superspreader event before it has a chance to grow.”