Artist’s illustration of the new ‘sticiky’ silica material that captures coronavirus particles. Image: University of Liverpool.
Artist’s illustration of the new ‘sticiky’ silica material that captures coronavirus particles. Image: University of Liverpool.

A research team at the University of Liverpool in the UK has developed a new material that can capture coronavirus particles and could transform the efficiency of face masks and other filter equipment to stop the spread of COVID-19 and other viral infections.

In a paper in Nature Communications, the team showed that the new material, when used in a conventional face mask, was approximately 93% more efficient at capturing proteins, including coronavirus proteins, with little impact on breathability.

The Liverpool scientists behind the new material are Peter Myers, a research leader in chromatography, and Simon Maher, a mass spectrometry expert. They had been collaborating on high performance liquid chromatography processes where proteins ‘stick’ to the surface of chromatographic support materials.

During the pandemic, Myers realised that he could take advantage of this process to provide a way to absorb proteins, and specifically the protruding S1 spike protein that covers the outer lipid membrane of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Working together, the teams from the University of Liverpool’s departments of chemistry and electrical engineering and electronics ‘re-tuned’ the surface of the spherical silica particles they used for chromatography to make the surface very ‘sticky’ for the COVID-19 S1 spike protein.

At the same time, they increased the porosity of the silica particle to give it a very large surface area of 300m2 per gram, which is approximately the same area as a tennis court. They also increased the internal volume of the silica sphere to provide a large capacity for ‘capturing’ the virus.

The new material is at proof-of-concept stage and the team has shown that it works in both face masks and air filters, such as those used in aeroplanes, cars and air conditioning.

The group, which includes researchers at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, also developed a method to attach the sticky particles onto the surface of a conventional face mask.

“This proof-of-concept research has only scratched the surface and whilst COVID-19 is no longer a global threat to our health, this material has the potential to be used in a wide range of applications,” said Myers. “Our research team is looking at developing more advanced ‘sticky’ surfaces for a variety of bioaerosols including the new Covid variant BA.2.86 as well as influenzas and other deadly viruses such as Nipah.”

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