A new membrane-based respiratory mask developed by researchers can capture and deactivate circulating SARS-CoV-2 proteins upon contact with them. It is these prickly proteins that allow the virus to enter host cells once it is in the body.
According to tests, nearly 99 percent of airborne particles can be filtered out by the new mask, giving the wearer a vital extra layer of protection when it comes to avoiding infection.
“This new material can filter out the virus as an N95 mask does, but it also includes antiviral enzymes that completely inactivate it,” says chemical engineer Dibakar Bhattacharyya of the University of Kentucky.
“This innovation is another layer of protection against SARS-CoV-2 that can help prevent the spread of the virus.”
After developing the membrane with the manufacturer, the researchers tested it using SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins that were immobilized on the synthetic particles. It was able to block aerosols the size of the coronavirus from passing through while destroying the spike proteins within 30 seconds of contact.
The membrane can be modified in terms of its thickness and porosity, leaving open the possibility of further improvements in the future. This means that the type of particles that are filtered by the membrane can be carefully controlled.
According to the team, a mask using this membrane can be worn for two hours a day for several days without affecting breathing. This means that masks do not have to be replaced as often, so fewer masks should be disposed of over time.
“The innovative development of smart filter materials with low resistance to airflow that can filter, capture and deactivate volatile virus particles could provide tremendous benefits to human health and the industrial workplace,” the researchers wrote in their published paper.
The protection factor provided by the new mask is higher than the standard N95 mask, which has been certified as capable of filtering 95 percent of particulate matter (hence the name). N95 masks have three or four fiber layers, plus an electrically charged filter layer.
Currently, the N95 mask is by far the most widely used in the healthcare industry, although there is still room for improvement. Using the new mask, the researchers obtained 98.9 percent of the 100-nm aerosol particles (including those carrying SARS-CoV-2).
What the researchers don’t say is how long it will take to get this substance out of the lab into masks you can actually take out and buy — although given how effective they are, hopefully sooner. from later.
“The use of respiratory face masks provides a significant reduction in the spread of the coronavirus, as it has been shown that spread of the virus occurs primarily via two modes of transmission: droplet spread and inhalation of airborne infectious aerosols,” the researchers wrote.
The search was published in communication materials.