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Irish Innovation in Wipes and Masks Could Help Battle Emerging Coronavirus Crisis
“What we have developed is like a living Velcro that removes and traps pathogens”
Nature-inspired wipes and masks which could capture and trap the Wuhan Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) are being developed by scientists at the Irish company Aquila Bioscience. This technology can be used by front-line personnel and civilians under risk of exposure as prophylactic measure to reduce viral transmission in places of contact such as hospitals and transportation hubs. The start-up, based at NUI Galway, has developed a chemical-free strategy that effectively removes bacteria, viruses, fungi and biological toxins from surfaces. Positive results have been achieved against a number of pathogens in a laboratory setting.
The wipes have been under development for almost two years with the specific aim of not only removing pathogens from surfaces but also ‘trapping’ them within the material so prevent them spreading and so help effective disposal. In addition, the solution is non-toxic so can be used on human skin, mucosal surfaces and wounds.
The development of this technology was funded by the European Defence Agency and was conducted in collaboration with the Irish Defence Forces and the Czech University of Defence.
“What we have developed is like a living Velcro at nanoscale. All cells are coated with proteins and complex carbohydrates. Every cell-to-cell relationship is ruled by interactions between these carbohydrates and proteins. We are tapping into this interaction by infusing our wipes with specific proteins and carbohydrates to which the pathogens bind – and stick,” explains Professor Lokesh Joshi, co-founder and director of Aquila Bioscience, and Vice-President for Research and Innovation at NUI Galway.
Nature has been experimenting for millions of years to find solutions against infectious diseases, explains Professor Joshi who is also Director of the Glycoscience Research Group at NUI Galway. “There is an ingenious manner by which nature protects us from infectious microbes and most biological toxins which have carbohydrates and proteins on their surfaces. In nature, humans and animals produce, milk, urine and saliva/mucus full of specific proteins and carbohydrates that bind to the pathogens to protect us from most of the pathogens we encounter on a daily basis.”
Currently all of the available decontamination strategies include artificial chemicals for example bleach, calcium hypochlorite and hydrogen peroxide. These strategies destroy biological agents, but are toxic, harmful to human beings and not safe for use on human surfaces (i.e skin). In addition, the use of conventional decontamination solutions can lead to recurrent infection and can interfere with forensic evidence due to their destructive nature and cannot be used for routine use as prophylactic purpose.
Aquila Bioscience technology can deliver safe and effective decontamination that can be routinely used on sensitive areas like skin, nose, eyes and mucosa, where other methods are either not safe or cause skin reactions. It is also totally non-toxic and composed of biodegradable materials in contrast to the damaging environmental impact of chemically based solutions and the major problems caused by non-recyclable wipes in the environment.
Aquila Bioscience continues to collaborate with the Irish Defence Forces, with their needs to be prepared against biothreat agents. This collaboration has also brought the technology to the attention of other national and international security and humanitarian agencies who have expressed strong interest in using the technology to protect first-responders and affected people.
“Our true hope it that this may indeed be an effective, safe and environmentally safe method to protect people from the potentially deadly pathogens they might encounter,” concluded Professor Joshi.