Researchers at the University of Kentucky created a novel membrane that can enzymatically degrade the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, rendering the virus inactive. The membrane is intended to act as an insert within face masks, providing extra protection for groups at high risk of SARS-CoV-2 exposure, such as health care staff. The researchers functionalized the membrane with subtilisin enzyme, which can degrade the spike protein in as little as 30 seconds. The masks could filter out as much as 95% of airborne particles, but the membranes may also be useful in air filtering technology that is designed to remove viral particles from indoor spaces.
Our societies are gradually adapting to live with SARS-CoV-2. While vaccines have played a huge role in this, basic devices that help us to avoid viral particles in the first place, such as the trusty face mask, will always be an important part of our response to the pandemic. Such technologies are particularly important for those who are routinely exposed to high levels of viral particles, such as the healthcare staff that care for those who become severely ill with COVID-19.
Maximizing the protection that masks provide is particularly important in this highly exposed population. This is the driving force behind this latest technology, which turbo charges the ability of a mask to tackle the virus. “This new material can filter out the virus like the N95 mask does, but also includes antiviral enzymes that completely deactivate it. This innovation is another layer of protection against SARS-CoV-2 that can help prevent the virus from spreading,” said Dibakar Bhattacharyya, a leader of the research. “It’s promising to the development new products that can protect against SARS-CoV-2 and a number of other human pathogenic viruses.”
At the heart of the technology is a membrane that the researchers have functionalized with subtilisin, an enzyme that can denature the viral spike protein. In tests with small synthetic particles that were studded with the viral spike protein, the researchers showed that the technology could destroy the proteins in as little as 30 seconds. Without this crucial spike protein component, viral particles can’t enter cells, rendering them largely harmless.
Interestingly, the membranes may also be useful in air filters that are intended to reduce the level of viral particles in indoor environments. “These membranes have been proven to be a promising system of advancement toward the new generation of respiratory face masks and enclosed-environment filters that can significantly reduce coronavirus transmission by virus protein deactivation and enhanced aerosol particle capture,” said the researchers.
Study in Communications Materials: Aerosol capture and coronavirus spike protein deactivation by enzyme functionalized antiviral membranes