Biosensors & Biometrics for COVID-19 Detection

October 1, 2020

Biosensors use biological molecules to detect chemicals while biometrics use identification methods based on unique physical attributes, like a fingerprint, iris or voice patterns. These two biological technologies aid in COVID-19 detection.

Biosensors – Virus Air Detection

Researchers from Zurich developed a biosensor for detecting COVID-19 in the air. The sensor includes both optical and thermal components. Vibrating nanostructures on the sensor modulate incident light at specific wavelengths to create a plasmonic near-field. When air molecules contact the field, the sensor analyzes RNA strands. The same nanostructures produce heat, which prevents RNA strands from combining or separating at lower temperatures and creating false negatives or positives. Receptors on the sensor match the RNA sequences of COVID-19, enabling it to reliably identify the virus. Before the sensor can see use, a system must be developed that collects air, concentrates the aerosols within and releases the RNA for the sensor to analyze. The sensor could be utilized in hospitals, train stations or other indoor locations where people gather to detect the virus in the air.

Biosensors – Faster Tests

Current diagnostic tests for COVID-19 are not as fast or accurate as they could be. Researchers developed a biosensor for more efficient virus testing. The sensor is equipped with antibodies against COVID-19 and is made of graphene, which has a high electronic conductivity. When the COVID-19 virus contacts the sensor and binds to the antibodies, the electrical current of the graphene changes, indicating a positive test result. The biosensor is faster than traditional testing and research is underway to meet standards in sensitivity.

Biometrics – Safer Air Travel

Airports use biometrics including facial recognition for faster check-ins and more efficient security checks. Biometrics can also be used for COVID-19 checks. A passenger checking in for a flight at a kiosk is scanned for temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate. The device suspends the check-in process if an indicator of illness is detected, preventing travel until the passenger’s health is evaluated. Select Australian airports are currently using these biometrics.

Biometrics – Fever Detection

Some colleges and public schools use biometrics to scan student temperatures along with facial recognition to identify students. Similar systems have been used to detect travelers with COVID-19 in Beijing’s subway stations. If a fever is detected, health professionals are alerted and the patient is asked to move to an isolated room until their health can be evaluated.

Privacy Concerns

Biometrics is a relatively new technology, and concerns exist on how it will be protected against hackers. There are further concerns as to who controls the collected data and how it will be used. One worry is the ability to use biometrics for surveillance beyond disease detection. Time and location stamps along with facial recognition allow for tracking individuals.

Biosensors are entering health monitoring, creating similar privacy concerns as to how to maintain medical information confidentiality. Protecting the health and wellbeing of citizens is important, and more effective means of detecting COVID-19 is crucial to that goal. Privacy concerns will need to be addressed as technology advances.