New salt coated surgical mask doesn't just trap viruses, it destroy viruses like the coronavirus in 5 minutes?

The surgical masks people wear to stop the spread of viruses don't work well -- that isn't what they're designed for. Pathogens like influenza are transmitted in aerosol droplets when we cough or sneeze. Masks trap the droplets but the virus remains infectious.

salt coated surgical mask against coronavirus
Hyo-Jick Choi (right) and Ilaria Rubin (left)

Solution - Salt-Coated Mask

Hyo-Jick Choi, a professor at the University of Alberta in Canada, says he has a potential solution: A mask that can kill harmful pathogens, rather than just block them. The secret ingredient is table salt.

Because the molecular structure of salt is crystalline, its hard, sharp corners can pierce viruses, rendering them unviable, Choi says.

His team has been testing salt-coated masks in the lab for the past few years, and found that they can inactivate three strains of the influenza virus. Their findings appear in the journal Scientific Reports, published by Nature Publishing Group (Scientific Reports. 2017)

They think the pathogen-neutralizing technology could significantly improve infectious-disease prevention efforts and hope to bring the masks to market within the next 18 months.

How the salt-coated mask works

Viruses and other pathogens travel either through the air; in droplets such as saliva or phlegm from coughing, sneezing, speaking, or breathing; or on surfaces.

“The coronavirus-carrying droplets, expelled from coughing, sneezing, speaking or breathing, can stay on the surface of the masks,” Choi told Business Insider. “The biggest technical challenge of the current surgical mask and n95 respirator is that they cannot kill the virus sitting on their surface, which increases the chance of the contact transmission.”

But when a virus-carrying droplet encounters a mask coated in Choi’s salt solution, he says, it begins to absorb the salt. Then once the liquid evaporates, all that remains is the virus and the crystallized salt – which slices through the virus, neutralizing it.

The process takes as long as it takes the water to evaporate, Choi said.

In his lab tests, he added, “the virus is inactive within five minutes, and it all got destroyed within 30 minutes.”

Failed experiments sparked an idea for new masks

Choi said he got the idea for a salt-coated mask from the failure of a different experiment.

He was trying to develop oral vaccinations that are easier to deliver than shots. As part of that process, a weakened form of a virus was mixed into a sugar solution. But the structure of the sugars kept cutting the virus particles open, making the vaccine ineffective.

“Crystal formation in sugar-based formulations destabilizes vaccines,” Ilaria Rubino, a University of Alberta Ph.D student in Choi’s lab group, told Business Insider in an email. “We wondered: Would then crystal re-growth of salt be able to inactivate viruses?”

The group began developing a salt film coating and applying it to the fibers of mask filters. Then they built and tested prototypes.

In a series of experiments and tests at the University of Alberta and in the Department of Medical Zoology at the Kyung Hee University School of Medicine in Seoul, South Korea, the team arrived at a perfect treatment that improves the efficacy of the fibre filter inside the masks.

By using a safe substance (table salt) to improve an existing, approved product, Choi sees very few roadblocks to implementing the innovation.

The research was funded by the University of Alberta. Choi has been awarded a provisional patent for the development of virus deactivation systems based on the salt-crystallization mechanism.Choi now has a provisional patent on the technology.

Choi says the technology is commercially scalable

Rubino said the simplicity of the salt-coating solution makes it easy to integrate into existing mask manufacturing processes.

“One of the advantages of our technology is that it is not complicated, yet it is robust,” she said. “This would require very low capital investment and the material (salt) itself is inexpensive.”

She added that the team hopes to work with companies to begin manufacturing the devices commercially within two years.

“This also means that salt-coated masks could be stockpiled in preparation for pandemics and epidemics,” Rubino said. “They could be readily used at the time of outbreak, irrespective of the disease.”

Face Mask with Nano-diamonds and Salt

Another related development, Master Dynamic Limited has been awarded a $1.29 M grant by conglomerate New World Development (NWD) to research and develop a nano-diamond coating to be employed in a new generation of virus-killing face masks. A coating of salt crystals and nano-diamonds destroy viruses and micro-organisms. The company is exploring ways to apply this specific technology to the non-woven material of surgical masks, which may be used to produce high-performance, breathable, and waterproof antibacterial and antiviral masks that can block off, suppress, and even kill bacteria and viruses. The production of this mask is expected to start in April 2020 (Statnano).

Fu-Shi Quan, Ilaria Rubino, Su-Hwa Lee, Brendan Koch, Hyo-Jick Choi. Universal and reusable virus deactivation system for respiratory protection. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 39956 DOI: 10.1038/srep39956


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