In this photo, fluorescence is used to demonstrate how virus-like particles bind differently to different types of materials. Photo: Morgan Alexander.
In this photo, fluorescence is used to demonstrate how virus-like particles bind differently to different types of materials. Photo: Morgan Alexander.

Personal protective equipment (PPE), like face masks and gowns, is generally made of polymers. But not much attention is typically given to the selection of the polymers used, beyond their physical properties.

To help with the identification of materials that will bind to a virus and speed its inactivation for use in PPE, researchers from the University of Nottingham in the UK, EMD Millipore and the Philipps University of Marburg in Germany developed a high-throughput method for analyzing the interactions between materials and virus-like particles. They report their method in a paper in Biointerphases.

"We've been very interested in the fact that polymers can have effects on cells on their surface," said Morgan Alexander from the University of Nottingham. "We can get polymers which resist bacteria, for example, without designing any particular clever or smart material with antibiotic in there. You just have to choose the right polymer. This paper extends this thinking to viral binding."

The group created microarrays of 300 different monomer compositions of polymers representing a wide variety of characteristics. They then exposed these polymers to Lassa and Rubella virus-like particles – particles with the same structure as their viral counterparts but without the infectious genomes activated – to see which materials were best able to adsorb the particles.

"Knowing that different polymers bind and possibly inactivate virus to different degrees means we may be able to make recommendations," Alexander said. "Should I use this existing glove material or that glove if I want the virus to bind to it and die and not fly into the air when I take the gloves off?"

Though this may seem like an obvious method for quickly screening large quantities of materials, the interdisciplinary nature of the team made it uniquely positioned to conduct such a study. The surface scientists had the capabilities to create large numbers of chemicals on microarrays, and the biologists had access to virus-like particles.

So far, the tests have only looked at virus-like particles of Lassa and Rubella, but the group is hoping to acquire a grant to look at virus-like particles of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for covid-19.

Once a handful of the best-performing materials have been determined, the next step of the project will be to use live viruses to evaluate their infectious lifetimes on the materials, taking into account real-world environmental conditions, like humidity and temperature. With enough data, a molecular model can be built to describe the interactions.

"Strong binding and quick denaturing of a virus on a polymer would be great," said Alexander. "It remains to be seen whether the effect is significantly large to make a real difference, but we need to look to find out."

This story is adapted from material from the American Institute of Physics, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.