Dibakar Bhattacharyya, Ph.D., and Rollie Mills, a Ph.D. student in his lab at the University of Kentucky, have assembled a team of scientists to create a medical face mask membrane that can collect and inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein upon contact.
Bhattacharyya, better known by his friends and coworkers as “DB,” and other UK collaborators from several academic fields were given funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to produce the materials at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. On May 24 (2022), their research was released in the Nature journal Communications Materials.
Spike proteins on SARS-CoV-2 enable the virus to penetrate host cells after it has already entered the body. The group created a membrane with proteolytic enzymes that bind to the protein spikes and render them inactive.
“This new material can filter out the virus like the N95 mask does, but also includes antiviral enzymes that completely deactivate it. This innovation is another layer of protection against SARS-CoV-2 that can help prevent the virus from spreading,” said DB, the director of UK’s Center of Membrane Sciences.
“It’s promising to the development new products that can protect against SARS-CoV-2 and a number of other human pathogenic viruses.”
DB’s team included J. Todd Hastings, Ph.D., Thomas Dziubla, Ph.D., and Kevin Baldridge, Ph.D. from the College of Engineering; Yinan Wei, Ph.D., a former professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry; and Lou Hersh, Ph.D., in the College of Medicine’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry.
College of Engineering doctoral student Rollie Mills (NSF Graduate Fellow and first author of the article), and undergraduate students Ronald Vogler, Matthew Bernard and Jacob Concolino contributed extensively to the project.
The membrane was created by the team and manufactured as a result of an ongoing partnership with a significant membrane manufacturer. Then, it was put to the test using synthetic particles with immobilized SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins.
This new material can filter out the virus like the N95 mask does, but also includes antiviral enzymes that completely deactivate it. This innovation is another layer of protection against SARS-CoV-2 that can help prevent the virus from spreading. It’s promising to the development new products that can protect against SARS-CoV-2 and a number of other human pathogenic viruses.Dibakar Bhattacharyya
The substance had the ability to destroy the spike proteins within 30 seconds of contact, in addition to filtering out aerosols the size of coronaviruses.
According to the study, the membrane could filter at least 95% of airborne particles and offered protection above the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s threshold for N95 masks.
“These membranes have been proven to be a promising system of advancement toward the new generation of respiratory face masks and enclosed-environment filters that can significantly reduce coronavirus transmission by virus protein deactivation and enhanced aerosol particle capture,” the study reports.
The new membrane expands on NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) and NSF-funded activities carried out at the center that resulted in the development of several functionalized membranes for environmental remediation.
Functionalized membranes offer further advantages over passive membranes by selectively binding or deactivating unwanted particles like viruses.