Scientists at the University of Cambridge working with an anti-viral coating technology called DioX believe that it could protect facemask users by killing the deadly coronavirus in as little as an hour. According to ‘The Daily Telegraph’, the invisible coating on facemasks attacks the virus by rapturing its outer layer, effectively eliminating all new mutant variants, including the UK’s so-called Kent variant and the South African variant.
"The antiviral agent within the coating of the mask kills the virus by breaching its protective outer membrane, which is known as its envelope. Unlike other parts of the virus, the membrane remains the same regardless of any type of mutation. Hence this way of attacking the pathogen will work on any new variant of coronavirus,” Dr Graham Christie, senior lecturer at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge, told the newspaper.
“In fact, you could mutate the entire genome of the virus and it would have no effect on the envelope. We expect to see the same response regardless of the strain of coronavirus because structurally they are all very similar," he said.
The technology called DiOX is based on quaternary ammonium salts – organic compounds widely used in the textile industry for their antimicrobial properties. Laboratory tests showed that the mask coated with it killed 95 per cent of pathogens on its surface within one hour and they were undetectable after four hours.
Experts say the action of the antiviral agent continues to work because it is unaffected by changes in the spike protein of the virus, which is the method by which coronavirus mutates.
"The variants that we are seeing occur in the spike proteins that stud the surface of the virus rather than the membrane of the envelope," said Dr Christie.
“It is the genetic information that encodes this protein that is mutating, and this is leading to very slight structural changes in the shape of the spike. However, the envelope is derived from part of a human cell that the virus grabs from its host in order to protect its genetic material. It is made from lipids, which unlike the proteins do not change," he said.
According to the newspaper report, the mask is reusable and can be washed up to 20 times, albeit subject to a reduction in efficacy after multiple washes. During the study, the mask was tested on a coronavirus called MHV-A59, which is genetically and structurally very similar to SARS-CoV-2.
"The Cambridge work followed industry standards for the testing of viruses on material," said Andy Middleton, co-founder of LiquidNano, the UK company which commissioned the study.
"It also made some critical adaptations to give it a more ‘real-world’ relevance. This included conducting splash tests to mimic sneezing, helping to ensure the tests were as rigorous as possible. We have taken a proven antiviral agent and developed it for fabric in order to create a user-friendly mask," he said.
DioX D4 claims to offer a patented technology for inhibiting the growth of a wide array of bacteria, mould, mildew, algae, fungi, and yeast on textile materials.
The novel antimicrobial agent provides an invisible microbiostatic coating to inhibit the growth of odour causing bacteria. Given the coronavirus pandemic, DiOX D4 said it has also been independently tested to rapidly reduce bacterial and viral pathogens, “greatly limiting the risk of contact contamination and infection”.
If proved effective in further analyses, the technology could offer an additional layer of protection against deadly viruses over time.