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Discovering ‘Virus Velcro’: COVID-capturing face mask filter

Scientists have developed a new and affordable formulation to increase the effectiveness of face covering filters at trapping coronavirus particles, retaining up to 99.6% of the virus.

Experts at the University of Lincoln are hailing the discovery as a ‘breakthrough moment’. The results have already been tested to a recognised international standard by an independent standards laboratory and researchers are currently sourcing development partners. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, the researchers assembled a supply chain partnership to produce preventative measures against the virus. Their work was supported by the university, which provided key worker access to research laboratories during lockdown and funded the work through the Impact Accelerator Funding Scheme.

Associate Professor Nick Tucker, a specialist in materials and manufacturing at the University of Lincoln’s School of Engineering, who led the research, said: “As restrictions are eased and life is gradually returning to pre-pandemic normality, these filters could prove crucial in preventing further rising rates of coronavirus.  

“We knew that to make a successful contribution in the struggle against the pandemic we needed to assemble a complete supply chain for our discoveries and all the supply chain members need to be fully involved from the start.  

“The connection between design, science and engineering is important too – it is no good inventing a formulation that is too expensive or too difficult to make.” 

Seaweed extract fucoidan sticks and immobilises the virus on to a surface. The coronavirus-defying properties of fucoidan were originally identified in the science journal Nature, during the early phase of the pandemic. However, fucoidan is expensive and difficult to obtain in the UK so the team developed formulas with similar outcomes, using cheaper and more readily available materials.

These formulas were inserted into biodegradable filters, tested for permeability and sent to an independent laboratory to be tested for efficacy in capturing coronavirus. 

When treated with the formulation, filter fibres act like ‘virus velcro’ – results show that if an airborne coronavirus contacts the surface of the filter, it will stick because of the similarity to the human tissue surface to which the virus would normally attach. The filter formula therefore increases the efficiency of trapping the virus without making the mask uncomfortable to wear or more difficult to breathe through.

www.lincoln.ac.uk

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