Israeli researchers develop anti-coronavirus coating for surfaces

The cooperation between the different expertise of the scientists involved proved to be a key for the success of the study.

Esti Toledo and Guillaume Le Saux at Dr. Mark Schvartzman's laboratory at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. (photo credit: DANI MACHLIS/BEN-GURION UNIVERSITY OF THE NEGEV)
Esti Toledo and Guillaume Le Saux at Dr. Mark Schvartzman's laboratory at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
(photo credit: DANI MACHLIS/BEN-GURION UNIVERSITY OF THE NEGEV)
Although the coronavirus mainly spreads through the minuscule droplets that an infected person disperses in the air when they cough or sneeze, which are then inhaled by a healthy person, one of the characteristics that contribute to making the virus so insidious is its ability to survive on surfaces for a long time, even for days.
To address the issue, a team of researchers fromBen-Gurion University of the Negev are working to develop a nanomaterial coating that can be painted onto different surfaces and has the ability to kill the virus, as explained to The Jerusalem Post by  Prof. Angel Porgador of the university’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics and the National Institute of Biotechnology in the Negev (NIBN) and Dr. Mark Schvartzman, from the Department of Materials Engineering.
“At the beginning of the outbreak, I was reading a paper testing how long the virus would survive on door handles made of different materials and I found out that copper was definitely the best one, killing the virus within a few hours,” Porgador explained. “I called Mark, with whom I have been collaborating for years, and I suggested trying to develop a coating that could be used for all sorts of objects that people touch, from door handles to mezuzot.”
The complementary expertise of the scientists involved proved to be a key for the success of the study.
“We come from different scientific backgrounds, Angel is a biologist who focuses on immunology research, while I’m a nanotechnologist. In recent years, most of my research has focused on developing nanomaterials for biomedical and biological purposes,” Schvartzman pointed out. “Our collaboration has been very fruitful in a synergy between such different fields that is very rare to find.”
Schvartzman and his team therefore started working on creating the materials for the coating – and their effectiveness could then be tested by Porgador’s lab.
“We quickly performed some experiments that showed very promising results and a concrete proof of concept,” the doctor explained, adding that their project was recently awarded a grant by Israel’s Innovation Authority providing funds for a year.
The basic goal of the research was to create a substance based on polymers, a plastic material which is also the basis for paints, incorporating nanoparticles of metals like copper.
“While the polymer is the carrier, the antiviral function is performed by these tiny particles of copper. The great advantage of nanomaterials is that they have a lot of surface, with a surface-to-volume ratio which becomes larger the smaller the object is,” Schvartzman added.
The researchers explained that they are working on creating a versatile formula that can be applied in coating different kinds of materials, from metals to plastic to wood, preparing compositions suitable for each – similar to how different types of paint must be used for different surfaces.
“It depends on the ability of a certain polymer to stick to a specific material, even if the pigment contained in it is the same,” Schvartzman told the Post.
One of the questions that the scientists are addressing and testing is how long the coating will last after being applied and how well it will resist different factors such as changes in temperature and humidity conditions or repeated touch.
Asked how long it will take for the coating to kill the virus when it reaches the surface, Porgador  said that their goal is to achieve a result similar to surfaces of pure copper, which eliminate the virus in four hours.
“If it was quicker than that, it would probably be toxic also for the human skin,” he pointed out.
The team hopes to have more answers in a month or two and to finalize the product within a few months.
The project is one of 27 proposals submitted to the Israel Innovation Authority by BGN Technologies, the technology transfer company of BGU.
PhD students Yariv Greenshpan and Esti Toledo, and postdoc Guillaume Le Saux are also participating in the research.


Tags science