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Swedish researchers develops material to protect us from pandemics

Martin Andersson

​A new material developed by researchers at Chalmers that can kill bacteria has now shown early promise in de-activation of viruses, including certain coronaviruses.

The material is now being evaluated against SARS-CoV-2.

Microbe-killing peptides are combined with a nanostructured material

​The novel material, recently presented in a doctoral thesis, has proven to be very effective in killing common infection causing bacteria, including those that are resistant to antibiotics such as MRSA and a E. coli superbugs.

The basis of the research is a patented technology where microbe-killing peptides are combined with a nanostructured material. So far, it has been targeted towards bacteria, but with the outbreak of the new coronavirus, the researchers started a study to understand if the material would work against the virus.

“Similar peptides that we work with have previously shown to be effective against various other coronaviruses, including those that have caused the outbreaks of SARS and MERS. Our premise is that the antimicrobial effect of our peptides seen on bacteria can be also be used to inactivate the coronavirus,” says Martin Andersson, research leader and professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers.

Promising results

Tests with the new material on another human coronavirus has shown promising early results where the material deactivated 99.9 percent of the virus. The researchers now see great potential for it to work on SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19. They have initiated collaboration with researchers, based in Gothenburg University/ Sahlgrenska Academy, with access to the SARS-Cov-2.

The material can be produced in many different forms such as surface treatments and as small particles. When microbes such as bacteria and viruses come in contact with the material surface, they are rapidly killed, and further spread is prevented. The material can easily be adapted for use in personal protective equipment such as face masks and medical devices including respirators and intubation tubes. This way, the material may offer reliable protection against the current and future pandemics. The researchers see it as valuable technology for our efforts towards pandemic preparedness.

“A surface layer of our new material on face masks would not only stop the passage of the virus but also reduce the risk that it can be transported further, for example when the mask is removed and thus reduce the spread of infection,” explains Andersson.

The strategy is to imitate how the body’s immune system fights infectious microbes. Immune cells in our body produce different types of peptides that selectively damage the outer shell of bacteria and viruses. The mechanism is similar to the effect that soap and water has on bacteria and viruses, although, the peptides have higher selectivity and are efficient while totally harmless to human cells. A major advantage is that the way the material works provides a high flexibility and gives it a low sensitivity to mutations. Unlike vaccines, the peptides continue to inactivate the virus even if it mutates. The idea behind the research is to make us less vulnerable and better prepared when the next pandemic comes.

Connection between the ongoing pandemic and antibiotic resistance

As covid-19 unfolds, another healthcare threat, what many call the “silent pandemic” caused by antibiotic resistance has been ongoing for decades. According to WHO, antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to humanity. Without drastic action, estimates show that more people are likely to die of bacterial infections than cancer by 2050. Unfortunately, there is a worrying link between the ongoing pandemic and antibiotic resistance. Many covid-19 patients develop secondary bacterial infections which must be treated with antibiotics. According to the researchers, the new material may prove efficient for preventing both the viral and bacterial infections.

Started a company

To enable societal benefit from the new technology, the researchers started a company, Amferia AB, with support from Chalmers Innovation Office and Chalmers Ventures. Amferia is based at Astrazeneca BioVentureHub in Mölndal, Sweden.

Earlier this year, Saba Atefyekta defended her PhD at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers. She presented the new material in her doctoral thesis titled “Antibacterial Surfaces for Biomedical Applications”. Saba is one of the founders of Amferia and the company’s research manager

“If we are not going to meet a dark future, we must prevent infections from happening. We believe that the materials we develop can help prevent future infections and thus reduce the use of antibiotics, so that we can continue to use these life-protecting medicines in the future,” says Saba Atefyekta

When the antiviral effect of the material on the SARS-CoV-2 is confirmed, the next step is to make it rapidly available to protect both healthcare professionals and the general public.

Amferia has been selected as a “one to watch” in this year’s Spinoff Prize, which is organized by Nature Research and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.

Source: Chalmers/Jenny Jernberg
Photo of Martin Andersson: Johan Bodell/Chalmers