The COVID-19 pandemic has made it starkly clear that the world lacks rapid, accurate diagnostic tests for pathogens. When patients arrive in a medical facility for treatment, the triage process is hindered by diagnostic tests that are inaccurate or take a long time to produce results. In addition, patients who are asymptomatic and do not know they are sick might never get tested, and can infect many others.
A research team at the Wyss Institute has integrated its freeze-dried cell-free biological reactions and synthetic biology circuits into fabric to create wearable freeze-dried cell-free (wFDCF) technology. wFDCF combines a lateral flow assay (the same technology used in at-home pregnancy tests) with nucleic acid sensors developed at the Wyss Institute to create a low-cost diagnostic that clearly reports a positive or negative result using a pattern of lines on a paper strip.
wFDCF can be embedded into any face mask and is able to rapidly and accurately detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA in a patient’s breath. The diagnostic is activated via the push of a button that releases a small amount of water into the sensor to initiate the biological reaction. Results are available within 90 minutes at levels of accuracy comparable to standard nucleic acid-based diagnostic tests like PCR.
wFDCF can be integrated into clothing and customized to detect a wide array of environmental threats. Additional use cases include medical professionals working with pathogens, military personnel with potential exposure to bioweapons, and environment clean-up efforts involving toxins.