The National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) presented the L’Oréal-UNESCO National Prize “For Women in Science” to Dr. Vera Alejandra Álvarez for her development of a spray that inactivates the coronavirus on different surfaces.
Álvarez is CONICET Principal Investigator at the Materials Science and Technology Research Institute (INTEMA, CONICET- UNMDP) in Mar del Plata and vice-director of said institute where she directs the Thermoplastic Composite Materials Group (CoMP).
Its project “Development of gels, films and polymeric coatings for the production of protection materials and inactivation of COVID-19 of different surfaces”, aims to synthesize polymer-based materials, low cost, simple to prepare and implement, that are efficient as tools for the prevention of infections and elimination of coronavirus on different surfaces.
The project, proposed in conjunction with the team coordinated by Verónica Lassalle – also a CONICET researcher – at the Southern Chemical Institute, aims to take advantage of the antiviral, but also antifungal and antimicrobial properties of a biopolymer known as chitosan. The goal is to produce materials that allow protect different types of surfaces from SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens, causing it to inactiven -that is, they lose the possibility of replicating and spreading- when coming into contact with them.
Unlike disinfectants like sink, which when used as cleaning products allow the elimination of SARS-CoV-2, what these materials do is cover or impregnate surfaces and keep them protected.
When Alvarez and Lassalle read articles earlier this year that made reference to the chitosan’s ability to inactivate different coronaviruses, they thought they could take advantage of their vast experience in the development of materials based on this biopolymer, to make their contribution to the fight against the pandemic.
Although in principle the project aimed at the development of polymeric gels, films and coatings for the production of protective supplies for the health sector, for which it was sought that antiviral formulations based on chitosan could be impregnated to fabrics -Like a pigment or a colorant- without having to alter the industrial production process, it was also decided to incorporate the development of a spray which could also be applied to other surfaces, such as wood, glass, metal and plastic, and form a protective film that has a certain durability.
“One possible use for This spray would be to apply it on school desks at the end of the activity in the classroom, so as to allow time for the protective film to form for the next day’s work, ”says Vera Alvarez.
Until now, the spray was tested on glass and plastic surfaces and showed that it is capable of inactivating the virus and keeping it inactivated for at least eight hours.
The tests to test the capacity of the materials developed to inactivate coronavirus were carried out at CIVETAN. In any case, an agreement was also made with ANLIS Malbrán to test them in SARS-CoV-2, something that, according to the researcher, is not a requirement to have the marketing authorizations of the ANMAT.
“In fact, all the products that are on the market today, both in Argentina and in the rest of the world, were tested with bovine or canine coronavirus. But we wanted to test the product also with the human virus and the people of Malbrán responded positively to our proposal. In any case, the materials we develop have proven their ability to inactivate the herpes virus, both bovine and human, which is much more robust than coronaviruses. If it prevents herpes from replicating and spreading, it is expected that it will have the same effect on any coronavirus, “said the researcher.
Furthermore, the resistance of antiviral properties in fabrics has been tested in up to ten washes. “That is the objective and for now we are meeting it, but the material is versatile and depending on how one designs it, we could change that requirement and expand it according to demand”, explains the researcher.
“The Pigüé Textiles Work Cooperative was added to take charge of the scale production of fabrics impregnated with the antiviral formulations based on chitosan (coatings, films or gels) that we develop in the laboratory, and that will later be destined for the manufacture of protective supplies for the health sector, such as masks, gloves, both. But we also need the contribution of researchers and scholarship holders from other scientific organizations with capacities that we do not have – such as the Tandil Veterinary Research Center (CIVETAN, CONICET-UNCPBA-CICPBA), the Bahía Blanca Biochemical Research Institute (INIBIBB, CONICET -UNS) and the Biodiversity and Biotechnology Research Institute (INBIOTEC, CONICET) -, in which the antiviral, antimicrobial and antifungal properties of the materials were put to the test ”, assured the winner of the Prize.
The researcher also highlights that beyond the current pandemic situation, the possible uses of the materials transcend the conjuncture, since they show an important capacity to also inhibit bacteria, fungi and other viruses.
The ceremony was held virtually and was led by the President and General Director of L’Oréal Argentina, Jean-Noël Divet, and the President of CONICET, Dr. Ana Franchi. The event was also attended by the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation of the Argentine Nation, Dr. Roberto Salvarezza.