Alexander Klibanov, a chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his team have developed an anti-viral polymer than can be applied like paint.
A surface coated in spiky polymer molecules destroys the flu virus at a touch, according to a new report. The experimental substance, which can be applied like paint, might complement other germ control methods used in public spaces such as hospitals and airplanes, the developers say. Some experts, however, dispute its potential value for taming flu.
Chemist Alexander Klibanov of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his colleagues had already found that the bristly coating of polymers kills bacteria including Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus, which can lie in wait on doorknobs or other surfaces for unsuspecting hands to pick up. To test its effect on the much smaller flu virus, they applied droplets of a flu solution to glass slips painted with the polymer. After a few minutes’ exposure, they were unable to recover any active virus from the samples, meaning the coating reduced the pathogen’s abundance by at least a factor of 10,000. The group reported their results in a paper published online November 13 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.
Klibanov says part of their motivation was the ongoing concern over the potential for a deadly global outbreak of flu. “This isn’t going to save the world,” he says, “but this could potentially be a useful tool.” Ideally the polymer coating would be applied to hospital or airplane doors and air filters, surgical gear and anywhere else a pathogen might linger, he says. Touching a contaminated surface can probably spread the flu virus, according to the World Health Organization, although actual instances of such transmission may be rare.