VCU researchers are working on a face mask to kill the COVID-19 virus – Community News
Covid-19

VCU researchers are working on a face mask to kill the COVID-19 virus

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A team of researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University is developing a face mask that will not only prevent the spread of COVID-19, but actually kill the virus.

dr. Wei-Ning Wang is a professor in the College of Engineering at VCU and has more than ten years of research experience specializing in materials science. He joined the university in 2014. For the past three years, Wang has been working on the technology and product with his graduate student Zan Zhu and Ping Xu, Ph.D., a professor at the School of Dentistry.

Wang told 8News, Zhu is currently a Ph.D. candidate assigned to most of the research, while Xu is a microbiologist with over 30 years of research experience. Wang said Xu is in charge of the selection of bacteria.

According to Wang, there are already several active face mask technologies on the market. One idea is to coat the mask with a metal ion such as copper, silver or zinc, which can kill bacteria or pathogens. Another idea is a heating method. Wang believes that the metal layer poses a potential risk of chemical release and poses safety concerns, while the heating method requires a battery or external device to power it.

The team uses a chemical similar to what’s found in a disinfectant wipe, but turned it into a solid. The chemical is converted to polymer fiber and coated on the outer layer of the fabric surface.

Typically, the masks we’re used to wearing can catch airborne viruses, but they don’t kill the virus.

“This bacteria or virus can live on the surface of your face mask for hours or even days,” Wang said.

Wang said this could be dangerous and cause cross-contamination.

face mask image
face mask image
An image of how the mask works. (Courtesy of VCU)

The outer layer of Wang’s prototype plays a role in killing the bacteria or virus. He told 8News that the team is still trying to figure out how to apply the layer to the face mask.

According to Wang, he was “shocked” when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, having already studied air filters.

Wang said he saw how many health workers were struggling on the front lines and that he wanted to help the general public. In addition, Wang’s wife was dealing with a chronic illness and her heart had collapsed at least three times. He sprang into action to find a way to help her.

“My ultimate goal is to develop these types of active face masks to protect the people, protect our society and reduce the burden on the environment,” Wang said.

The team has applied for a patent and is in the early stages of testing with phage, a virus that is not harmful to humans.

“We still don’t have access to the actual COVID virus because it’s very dangerous. You have to be very careful with it,” Wang said.

With a prototype showing 95% efficiency in killing common bacteria like E.coli, Wang said more data is needed. The preliminary data showed that bacteria died 30 minutes to an hour after coming into contact with the outer layer of the mask. Wang hopes to shorten the inactivation time within five minutes.

The team plans to work with VCU’s medical school in the hopes of getting the mask to market as soon as possible. The last state is to send a prototype to an independent testing facility for verification and then to future investors.

dr. Wang hopes the technology will be ready and available to the public in two years.