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Israeli scientists develop polymer-based anti-COVID-19 surface coating

Scientists from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev are currently developing anti-viral coatings for surfaces that could potentially reduce the spread of COVID-19.


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May 6, 2020 by Canadian Plastics

Post-doctoral student Guillaume Le Saux (left) and PhD student Esti Toledo, shown here in Dr. Mark Schvartzman’s laboratory, participated in the research. Photo Credit: Dani Machlis.

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which is responsible for the current COVID-19 pandemic, is transmitted between people mainly via respiratory droplets, but it is known that the virus remains stable on various surfaces for days. One of the first indications for this came from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where active virus particles were found even 17 days after the ship was evacuated.

Which means that it’s important to be able to sterilize surfaces with high contamination potential, such as doorknobs, elevator buttons or handrails in public areas in general, and in hospitals and clinics in particular. However, current disinfectants are mainly based on chemicals such as poisonous sodium hypochlorite (bleach) or alcohol, both of which provide only a temporary measure until the next exposure to the virus.

To overcome this limitation, researchers in Israel are developing novel surface coatings that will have a long-term effect – and which contain nanoparticles of safe metal ions and polymers with anti-viral and anti-microbial activity.

The research is headed by Prof. Angel Porgador, from the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) and the National Institute of Biotechnology in the Negev (NIBN), and Dr. Mark Schvartzman, the Department of Materials Engineering at BGU, and builds on earlier research that shows that surfaces coated with copper nanoparticles strongly block infection of the cells by the COVID-19 virus.

Based on these findings, Prof. Porgador and Dr. Schvartzman are developing anti-viral coatings that can be painted or sprayed on surfaces. The coatings are based on polymers, which are the starting materials of plastics and paints, and contain nanoparticles of copper and other metals. The nanoparticles embedded in the polymer will enable controlled release of metal ions onto the coated surface. Studies show that these ions have a strong anti-viral effect, which can eradicate virus particles that adhere to the surface. Because the release of ions is extremely slow, the coating can be effective for a long period of time – weeks and even months, and it will reduce the infectivity of the virus particles by more than 10-fold.

“While current surface disinfection methods rely mostly on substances that are poisonous for people, such as bleach, or on substances that evaporate readily being based on alcohol, the coating that we are developing is based on metals that are toxic for viruses or bacteria, but completely human friendly,” Dr. Schvartzman said. “It should be noted that until now using such metals for anti-viral applications has encountered significant challenges due to the nature of the metals, such as the tendency to oxidize and corrode. Nanoparticles provide a solution to these obstacles. Another advantage of nanoparticles is the large surface area to volume ratio, which results in an efficient anti-viral surface area using a relatively small amount of metal. Additionally, nanoparticles of anti-viral metal can be easily embedded in a polymer that can coat the relevant surfaces for extended periods of time.”

The research activity of Prof. Porgador and Dr. Schvartzman is part of the coronavirus research task force, founded by Prof. Daniel Chamovitz, president of BGU. To support this activity, it was decided to divert research funds in order to find rapid solutions for various challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic. This invention received the support of the Israel Innovation Authority, in response to a call for proposals for coping with the coronavirus. The project is one of 27 proposals submitted to the Israel Innovation Authority by BGN Technologies, the technology transfer company of BGU, based on innovative and diverse inventions of researchers at BGU and NIBN for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19.