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A nanomaterial capable of eliminating coronavirus can be applied in masks and fabric

This material is based on copper nanoparticles that block the functional proteins of SARS-CoV-2, especially protein spike, which allows the virus to infect cells.

SARS-CoV-2 particles, coloured in blue, in an electron microscope image. / CDC.A team of researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC, by its Spanish acronym) has developed a new nanomaterial made up of copper nanoparticles that inhibits the proteins of SARS-CoV-2, which causes covid-19, and blocks its propagation. The material, already protected by patent, it is also applicable in the coating of surgical masks, protective fabrics for hospital use and in the coating of contact surfaces, such as handrails or handles in public transport. Researchers are now studying its industrial development to bring it to the market.

“This new technology consists of nanoparticles that interact with coronavirus’ proteins modifying them through a mechanism of oxidation, and blocking its capacity to infect human cells”, explains researcher José Miguel Palomo, who has leaded the development as head of the Chemical Biology and Biocatalysis group of the Institute of Catalysis and Petrochemistry from CSIC.

This new material is very efficient inhibiting functional proteins of SARS-CoV-2, especially 3C-like protease (that intervenes in the viral replication process) and the glycoprotein spike (which allows the entrance of the virus in human cells). This has been demonstrated by Palomo’s team, in collaboration with researchers Olga Abian and Adrián Velázquez from research institutes Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria de Aragón, Instituto Aragonés de Ciencias de la Salud and the University of Zaragoza.

“These copper nanoparticles are distributed uniformly impregnating a protein matrix, generating a biocompatible material, that also allows maintaining the nanoparticles adhered to it”, indicates the researcher.

The high viricidal efficacy of this nanomaterial its due to its active ingredient being formed up by very small copper nanoparticles, which increases its efficiency, because its formed by types of copper with only one oxidation state, which allows to obtain a high biological activity, not observed until now with other compounds, as researchers detail.

Researchers have confirmed that these nanomaterials can be applied as coating additives in different surfaces. This material has been trialed in the coating of officially approved polypropylene’s surgical masks, or cotton fabric (white coats). “This is of great interest, as it would allow us to have a new type of effective masks with direct inactivation against SARS-CoV-2. Moreover, it would block the transmission by a mechanical barrier (filtration) and it would also allow to have protection fabric for hospital use”, researchers further detail.

The new material has also been applied with success on metallic materials (steel and iron), so it can be used for coating contact surfaces such as handrails or handles, for example, in the public transport sector, as researchers have pointed out.

This nanomaterial is also extremely stable: it preserves its stability even in very high temperatures (>80ºC), which guarantees its use in temperatures of until 50-60ºC with extreme reliability (for example in mask reusage).

Furthermore, Copper presents advantages in comparison to other metals described as antimicrobial such as silver, apart from the obvious difference in price. Copper is more effective in a wider range of conditions and its even reinforced by conditions that reduce silver’s efficacy. Even though silver behaves well in hot and humid conditions, its efficacy decreases along with room temperature. On the other hand, copper maintains its efficacy in a wider temperature and humidity range. Apart from this, silver toxicity is 65 times higher than that of copper, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Researchers advance “we are investigating the development of the product and we are carrying out several studies for different materials that would allow its market sale.”

CSIC Communication Department