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Smart disinfectant aims to ‘knock-out’ coronavirus on surfaces

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Research team at Haifa’s Technion – The Israel Institute of Technology says development will be a ‘game-changer’

By ILANIT CHERNICK

Scientists at Haifa’s Technion have developed smart disinfectants that destroy the way in which coronavirus spreads and remains active on surfaces over time. 

These products are expected to replace household bleach and other chlorine-based products whose disinfecting powers diminish rapidly. 

The scientists, who are part of the Technion’s Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering, understood that something efficient needed to be developed if they were to help in the fight to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“Efficient disinfectants are crucial for blocking the spread of infection via contaminated surfaces,” the Technion said in a statement. “The novel coronavirus can survive on various surfaces for extended periods of time, depending on the type of surface and other conditions.”

According to research head, Assistant Professor Shady Farah, the scientists are “currently producing potential substances and testing them. 

“We plan to select the optimal substance and begin mass production in the next few months,” he said.

Farah was recently awarded a European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Health COVID-19 Rapid Response grant in order to accelerate the development process and market launch of the smart disinfectants. This is the first time that a Technion scientist receives a prestigious EIT Health grant alone. 

The Technion explained that coronavirus belongs to an extensive family of viruses that the world has been aware of for many years, some of which can also infect humans. 

“The novel coronavirus closely resembles one of its predecessors, SARS-CoV, which also originated in China and spread to many other countries; however, the steps that were taken to fight SARS-CoV are not effective enough against the current epidemic,” the university stressed. “To date, there is no approved ‘knockout’ treatment” for coronavirus and “there is no vaccine against it.”

“Our polymers will make public places safer.”

Findings from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which had numerous cases of the virus, found that it can survive on surfaces for as long as 17 days, making it clear that infection from touching contaminated surfaces is a real concern, in addition to person-to-person infection.

Prior to the outbreak, Farah’s research group were focused on developing innovative polymers for medical use and smart drug delivery technologies.

But when the pandemic broke out, they changed their focus to developing special anti-viral polymers that act on the virus in two ways: by altering and damaging its structure so that its infection capability is impaired; and by attacking and destroying the virus’s envelope. 

No less important, the disinfecting substance is released in a controlled and continuous manner so that the new technology’s effect is long-lasting.

The new disinfectant technology developed by the research group is based on low-cost and readily available raw materials. 

Farah made it clear that the materials the team has developed “will be a game-changer” because it blocks the cycle of infection from contaminated surfaces. 

“Infection from touching surfaces is a serious problem, especially in public places such as hospitals, factories, schools, shopping malls and public transportation,” he continued. “Our polymers will make these places safer. Although this development was accelerated due to the current coronavirus crisis, in the future it will also be effective against other microorganisms.”

He stressed that they are “enriching the arsenal of tools available to us and adding a new family of disinfectants that release the active substance in a controlled manner.”

“In this way, they remain effective for long periods of time,” Farah concluded.

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