Scientists hope their nanomaterial surface coatings will help battle COVID-19

Scientists at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) hope that surface coatings based on nanomaterials they have developed, with both antiviral and antibacterial properties, can be used to fight the current coronavirus.

The researchers have received funding from the Israel Innovation Authority to determine the impact of the surface coatings, which contain nanoparticles of safe metal ions and polymers, on the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which is responsible for the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is transmitted between people mainly via respiratory droplets, but it is known that the virus remains stable on various surfaces for days.

One of the first indications for this came from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where active virus particles were found 17 days after the ship was evacuated. In light of the possibility that the virus can spread through contaminated surfaces, it is important to sterilize surfaces with high contamination potential, such as doorknobs, elevator buttons or handrails in public areas, particularly in hospitals and clinics.

Medical staff at the coronavirus unit, in Ichilov hospital, Tel Aviv, May 4, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Current disinfectants used to fight the virus and other bacteria are mainly based on chemicals such as sodium hypochlorite (bleach) or alcohol, both of which provide only a temporary measure until the next exposure to the virus, the scientists said in a statement on Tuesday.

Because certain metals can be lethal for viruses and bacteria, even in small quantities, and are not poisonous to humans, the statement said, the nanoparticles of the ions can have a strong antiviral effect, and can eradicate virus particles that adhere to the surface with a long-term effect.

In proof of concept experiments, Prof. Angel Porgador, from the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics at Ben-Gurion University and the National Institute of Biotechnology in the Negev (NIBN), and Dr. Mark Schvartzman of the Department of Materials Engineering at BGU studied the effect of the surfaces coated with nanoparticles of various metals on the infection rate of lentiviruses, which belong to the HIV family, in human cells.

The findings showed that that surfaces coated with copper nanoparticles “strongly block infection of the human cells by the virus,” the statement said. The experiments are an indication of the “huge potential” of copper ions in preventing surface-mediated infection with SARS-CoV-2, as well.

Based on these findings, the researchers are now developing antiviral coatings that can be painted or sprayed on surfaces. The coatings are based on polymers, which are the base materials of plastics and paints, and contain nanoparticles of copper and other metals. The nanoparticles embedded in the polymer enable the controlled release of metal ions onto the coated surface, the statement said.

Because the release of ions is extremely slow, the coating can be effective for weeks or even months, and it will reduce the infectivity of the virus particles more than tenfold, the scientists said.

Dr. Mark Schvartzman of the Department of Materials Engineering at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Courtesy)

“Until now using such metals for anti-viral applications has encountered significant challenges due to the nature of the metals, such as the tendency to oxidize and corrode,” said Schvartzman. “Nanoparticles provide a solution to these obstacles. Another advantage of nanoparticles is the large surface area-to-volume ratio, which results in an efficient antiviral surface area using a relatively small amount of metal. Additionally, nanoparticles of antiviral metal can be easily embedded in a polymer that can coat the relevant surfaces for extended periods of time.”

Porgador and Schvartzman’s research activity is part of the coronavirus research task force set up by BGU president Daniel Chamovitz, to find rapid solutions for various challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

The nanoparticle coatings invention received the support of the Israel Innovation Authority, in response to a call for proposals for technologies that can help battle the coronavirus.

“The need to develop antiviral coatings has greatly increased recently, with the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, and this need will likely remain high even after the pandemic ends, due to increased awareness,” said Josh Peleg, CEO, BGN Technologies, in charge of bringing technological innovations from the lab to the market.

The product, when developed, can be applicable for medical settings, as an anti-pathogenic substance in places with increased risk of contamination such as hospitals, in home use, and in public spaces such as schools, airports, public transportation and cinemas, he said.

The project is one of 27 proposals submitted to the Israel Innovation Authority by BGN Technologies.

“We are developing coatings that will be effective not only against the coronavirus but also against other viruses, as indicated in our proof of concept experiments, and also against bacteria, so they will be relevant for a wide range of applications,” said Porgador in the statement.

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Written by Aakash Malu


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