Yale University shows wearable device to detect coronavirus cells

Engineers at Yale University have developed a wearable device to help people assess whether they have been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

This tiny clip-shaped gadget, dubbed Fresh Air Clip, can be clipped onto clothing to capture aerosolized viral particles in the environment. Pathogens are captured with polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS).

Exposure to SARS-CoV-2 could be detected by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis, for which the device would need to be sent to a laboratory.

In the study, more than 60 volunteers were fitted with the clips and wore them for five days. Five of the devices gave positive results – they were worn by four waiters in restaurants and one employee of a homeless shelter, where the risk of infection was particularly high.

In all cases, Fresh Air Clip not only confirmed contact with SARS-CoV-2 before symptoms appeared, but also quantified the impact of the virus. In other words, the gadget was able to measure the concentration of infectious particles in a person’s environment.

Krystal Pollitt, who is working on the device, says that one of the interesting potential applications of the device could be testing the effectiveness of ventilation in hospital wards with covid patients or even in public places.

The Fresh Air Clip gadget could be useful for early detection of infections and quick interventions. Those infected can be tested or quarantined to prevent potential transmission in their environment.

Crystal Pollitt
assistant professor at Yale University’s School of Public Health

The next big step in improving the device will be developing ways to provide real-time notification of exposure to the virus. If Fresh Air Clip doesn’t have to be sent to the lab every time, the response rate to a possible COVID-19 infection will be dramatically reduced.