Researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) have created a facemask using silver and copper nanolayers that neutralizes SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the university's official gazette said on Thursday.
UNAM is calling the triple-layered antimicrobial facemask SakCu; Sak means silver in Mayan and Cu is the chemical symbol for copper.
To test the mask, researchers took drops with the virus from COVID-19-positive patients at the Hospital Juarez in Mexico and placed them on the silver-copper film deposited in polypropylene, a Reuters report explains.
UNAM said that if the viral concentration was high, the virus disappeared by more than 80% in about eight hours and if the viral load was low, in two hours none of the virus RNA was detected.
"Upon contact with the silver-copper nanolayer, the SARS-CoV-2 membrane breaks and its RNA is damaged," the gazette said. "Thus, even if SakCu is disposed of improperly, it will not be a problem as it does not remain contaminated, like many of the masks that are thrown away."
The facemask is reusable and can be washed up to 10 times without losing its biocide properties. UNAM is not mass-producing the facemask and said that it currently has the capacity to produce 200 of them per day, the Reuters report adds. The research was led by UNAM's Materials Research Institute. It has not been peer reviewed.
Face masks are an area of interest that has seen some fascinating innovations in recent months. In October last year, engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were working on creating a mask that inactivates viruses using heat. The researchers at MIT were following a completely new concept of a face mask that users a heated copper mesh that would inactivate viruses, rather than filtering them.
Interestingly, the researchers explained, the mask’s ability to deactivate the virus could be enhanced by leveraging a concept know as a “reverse-flow reactor”. As a person wearing the mask breathes in and out, the air flow continually reverses. This would allow any viruses in the mask to pass over the mesh multiple times, making it more likely that they will be deactivated by the heat.
Similarly, earlier this year, researchers in the US, including those from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, designed a prototype face mask that can diagnose the wearer with covid-19 in about 90 minutes. These masks are embedded with small, disposable sensors that can be fitted into other face masks and could also be adapted to detect other viruses and pathogens.
(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Leslie Adler for Reuters)