Can this Israeli start-up help stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus?

Sonovia can provide thousands of protective masks or other hospital apparel ‘We have the ability to help prevent the virus from spreading’

Liat Goldhammer-Steinberg, CTO of Sonovia Ltd. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Liat Goldhammer-Steinberg, CTO of Sonovia Ltd.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An Israeli start-up company is hoping to help stop the spread of deadly coronavirus by shipping meters of anti-pathogen fabric to produce face masks, hospital apparel and protective clothing to China.
“We see an epidemic,” said Liat Goldhammer-Steinberg, chief technology officer of Sonovia Ltd., an Israeli company whose technology is based on a lab-scale sonochemical process that was developed at Bar-Ilan University. “We have the ability to help prevent the virus from spreading.”
Specifically, Sonovia developed an almost-permanent, ultrasonic, fabric-finishing technology for mechanical impregnation of zinc oxide nanoparticles into textiles.
“The technology is based upon a physical phenomenon called cavitation,” said Jason Migdal, head of the company’s business development team. “Soundwaves are used to physically infuse desired chemicals onto the structure area of materials, enhancing them with clinically proven antiviral and antibacterial properties.”
The coronavirus has spread like wildfire across China and now into several other countries, including the United States and Australia. Israel, too, is examining patients who might be afflicted with the disease. Several dozen people have died and thousands more are infected. The disease manifests itself as severe respiratory problems, including hemorrhagic pneumonia and liver and kidney dysfunction.
Earlier this week, China’s National Health Commission reported that “the ability of the coronavirus to spread is getting stronger, and infections could continue to rise,” according to Reuters. Until a vaccine is successfully formulated and internationally distributed, more lives are in danger.
“We therefore want to accelerate development of our technology into providing antiviral face masks, eye wear and hospital clothing,” Migdal said. “The virus is spread via aerosol and direct contact. Significantly, the latest reports also state that the ocular route is a key mechanism for infection.”
“Antiviral personal protective equipment – which are low-cost, highly durable and effective, as well as sustainable to the environment – are therefore of crucial importance to combat the transmission of this viral epidemic and avoid a pandemic,” he said.
Research published about Sonovia differentiates its product from the many antimicrobial fabrics that have been developed and marketed, including the use of silver, which has proven effective but costly.
Sonovia uses lower-cost, metal-oxide nanoparticles, including zinc oxide and copper oxide, to impart antibacterial protection. Research conducted through a grant by the European Union, in conjunction with 16 partners from 10 European countries, found the one-step process to be effective. Ultrasonic irradiation causes the formation of antimicrobial metal-oxide nanoparticles and actively impregnates these nanoparticles into textile fibers. Moreover, those fabrics impregnated with the zinc and copper oxides were shown to retain significant antibacterial activity even after 100 wash cycles at 75 degrees Celsius or 65 wash cycles at 92 degrees Celsius.
Metallic nanoparticles have been proposed as a formidable arsenal in the defense against influenza viruses, Migdal said. Research using Sonovia’s textiles has proven them to be effective against methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus and multidrug resistance in bacteria, he said.
Goldhammer-Steinberg said although the company has not completed the commercialization process, it does have enough stored fabric in its R&D line to produce between 5,000 and 10,000 masks, which could be made immediately.
“The only thing that really prevents us or slows us down is the fact that we are a start-up and need a budget to really generate our industrialization efforts,” she said.
However, as the company watches the coronavirus spread, “we will be willing to collaborate right now to offer our technology sooner than planned to stop this epidemic,” Goldhammer-Steinberg said.