Face masks made from fabric IU scientist developed could kill the coronavirus

Face masks made from fabric IU scientist developed could kill the coronavirus

Face masks made of a new fabric developed by an Indiana University scientist could do more than simply block the coronavirus from infecting the wearer. These masks could actually kill the germs.

Known as electroceutical fabric, the material employs microcell batteries to create an electrical field that essentially disarms the virus and prevents it from infecting a person. Without a host, the virus will die.

The fabric is already FDA-approved for use as a wound dressing, where it can prevent bacterial infections.

After studies have shown the fabric also can block the coronavirus from infecting a person, the company that makes the V.Dox Technology has applied for emergency authorization to craft face masks out of the fabric.

“Our technology has the ability to kill the virus rapidly upon contact so it can’t attach to the host and infect anyone,” said Mike Nagel, president and chief executive officer of Vomaris Inc., the Tempe, Arizona-based company that makes the technology. “This would definitely offer another layer of protection.”

The fabric originated a few years ago in the Ohio State University lab of Chandan Sen, now director of the Indiana Center for Regenerative Medicine and Engineering at the IU School of Medicine.

Here's how it works: 

At that time, Sen was looking to develop a material that would prevent bacterial infections of post-surgical wounds. He knew that bacteria use electrical signaling to communicate with one another to join to form biofilm, a thin, slimy layer that acts as a shield against antibiotics.

He developed an electroceutical fabric dotted with silver and zinc that when exposed to moisture act as microcell batteries and create a low-level electrical field. The electrical field interferes with the bacteria's communication, disrupting biofilm from forming and leading the bacteria to die.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Sen wanted to do something to help.

“We are not a virus lab, but given everything that was going on around us, it was unacceptable to sit at home,” Sen said.

He read an article that noted coronaviruses employ electrostatic forces to attach to hosts.  

If that were true for the new coronavirus, he realized, that might mean that the material might also affect the ability of the virus to infect a person. While the mechanism is different for biofilm, the end result is the same: Disarming a potential infectious agent. 

Sen and colleagues tested that theory in the lab. They found within one minute of contact with the fabric, the virus lost the ability to infect a host. He published preliminary results online at the preprint server chemrxiv.org.

Now, Vomaris is hoping to use the fabric to develop two products, a washable mask into which the user inserts a discardable layer made of the fabric, and another mask that the wearer would use once and discard.

The company hopes to have the products on the market this fall in advance of flu season, Nagel said.

While the company has not set a price yet for the product, it will likely cost more than a disposable surgical mask but still be affordable for hospitals or health care workers.