Textiles and materials used in personal protective equipment can absorb and carry viruses and bacteria and spread diseases without the healthcare worker knowing. Because PPEs are in short supply during the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers are finding ways to provide better protection while allowing for the safe reuse of the protective equipment, according to the LAMP Lab researchers at the university.
“Recently there’s been a focus on blood-repellent surfaces, and we were interested in achieving this with mechanical durability,” lead author of the study Anthony Galante said in a news release. “We want to push the boundary on what is possible with these types of surfaces, and especially given the current pandemic, we knew it’d be important to test against viruses.”
The coating is made to withstand ultrasonic washing, scrubbing and scraping.
“The durability is very important because there are other surface treatments out there, but they’re limited to disposable textiles. You can only use a gown or mask once before disposing of it,” co-author of the study Paul Leu, who leads the LAMP Lab, said. “Given the PPE shortage, there is a need for coatings that can be applied to reusable medical textiles that can be properly washed and sanitized.”
The researchers tested the coating by running it through tens of ultrasonic washes, applying thousands of rotations of the scrubbing pad and scraping it with a sharp razor blade. The coating was effective after each test, according to the researchers.
“As this fabric was already shown to repel blood, protein and bacteria, the logical next step was to determine whether it repels viruses. We chose human adenovirus types 4 and 7, as these are causes of acute respiratory disease as well as conjunctivitis (pink eye),” Eric Romanowski, Charles T. Campbell Microbiology Laboratory research director and co-author on the study, said. “It was hoped that the fabric would repel these viruses similar to how it repels proteins, which these viruses essentially are: proteins with nucleic acid inside. As it turned out, the adenoviruses were repelled in a similar way as proteins.”
Applications from hospital gowns to waiting room chairs could benefit from the coding to repel viruses, especially adenoviruses that easily spread, the researcher suggested.
“Adenovirus can be inadvertently picked up in hospital waiting rooms and from contaminated surfaces in general. It is rapidly spread in schools and homes and has an enormous impact on quality of life—keeping kids out of school and parents out of work,” director of basic research in the department of ophthalmology and co-author on the study Robert Shanks said. “This coating on waiting room furniture, for example, could be a major step towards reducing this problem.”
The researchers plan to test the effectiveness of the coating against betacoronaviruses, which can cause diseases like COVID-19.
“If the treated fabric would repel betacornonaviruses, and in particular SARS-CoV-2, this could have a huge impact for healthcare workers and even the general public if PPE, scrubs, or even clothing could be made from protein, blood-, bacteria-, and virus-repelling fabrics,” Romanowski said.
So far, the researchers apply the coating using drop casting which saturates the material with the solution from a syringe while applying heat treatment to increase stability. However, they suggest the process could use a spraying or dipping method to accommodate larger pieces of material.
The research was published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.