Battling COVID-19 Using UV Light

Researchers around Dave Whitten, University of New Mexico, synthesize materials and compounds that kill bacteria, viruses and fungus with UV-light. (R. Whitt, UNM)

As the deadly Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the world with no end in sight, new ways in which to stop the spread or mitigate the effects of the disease are few. Most experts agree that a vaccine would signi­ficantly slow or eventually stop the spread. But until today that leaves us with only prevention efforts such as masks, social distancing and disin­fecting, which partially due to human incon­sistencies in behavior, have proven to be variable in effec­tiveness. University of New Mexico researchers have found a possible breakthrough in how to manage this virus, as well as future ones. A team led by David Whitten from the Center for Biomedical Engi­neering, along with Eva Chi and Linnea Ista, found the ability of the combi­nation of certain polymers and oligomers, when combined with UV light, to almost completely kill the coronavirus.

Although disin­fectants such as bleach or alcohol are effective against the virus, they are volatile and corrosive, which limit lasting sterili­zation of surfaces treated by these products, Whitten said. What is different about these polymer and oligomer materials is that when activated with UV light, they provide a coating that is shown to be fast acting and highly effective, reducing the concen­tration of the virus by five orders of magnitude, Chi said. “These materials have shown to have broad-spectrum antiviral properties,” she said. Whitten points out that in order for the material to be active against the virus, it must be exposed to light. Light activates the docking process that is important and necessary for placing the oligomer or polymer at the surface of the virus particle, allowing the absorption of light that generates the reactive oxygen inter­mediate at the surface of the virus particle.

“As far as we know so far, materials such as ours are not active against Sars-CoV-2 in the dark and require acti­vation by irra­diation with ultraviolet or visible light, depending on where the specific anti­microbial absorbs light,” he said. “In the dark, our anti­microbial materials dock with the virus, and then on irra­diation, they activate oxygen. It is this active, excited state of oxygen that starts the chain of reactions that inac­tivate the virus.” And this science can easily be applied into consumer, commercial and healthc­are products, such as wipes, sprays, clothing, paint, personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers, and really almost any surface.

“When incorporated into N95 masks, this material works well against the virus,” Chi said. “In addition to trapping the virus in a mask, this would make for better PPE and prolong its life.” Another unique advantage of this material is that unlike tradi­tional disinfectant products, it is shown to not wash away with water and leaves no toxic residue as a result of the photo­degradation process, Chi said.

Whitten said he is hopeful that this discovery can quickly be put into use. He has a company – BioSafe Defenses – that he said has hired a former Environ­mental Protection Agency official to help expedite the regu­latory process in taking this discovery to market. He anticipates that once a material is approved, it will be only a matter of months before wipes, masks and other products are in the market­place. He said their research has found that adding the material into wipes would add only pennies per wipe. Addi­tionally, the material could be added into masks and other personal protective equipment, changing the game for businesses such as gyms, airlines, cruise ships, groceries, health care facilities, schools and many more industries.

In addition to corona­virus, these products could also help eliminate infec­tions by the common cold, seasonal flu and other viral and bacterial infections that plague millions of people annually, causing loss of work and school time. “There is a limitless market for this,” he said. He added that the current pandemic is likely not the last such public health crisis we will see, so even after a vaccine for corona­virus is available, such products could be useful in combatting a wide variety of viruses and bacteria, including the flu or common cold. “We‘re not just thinking about Covid but other pathogens and any viral agents,” Whitten said. “We want to be ready for the next pandemic.” (Source: UNM)

Reference: F. A. Monge et al.: Highly Effective Inactivation of SARS-CoV-2 by Conjugated Polymers and Oligomers, ACS Appl. Mater. Interf. 1255688 (2020); DOI: 10.1021/acsami.0c17445

Link: Center for Biomedical Engineering, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, USA

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