Monday April 22, 2019
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Daylight Turns Plastic Sheet into Germ-Killing Material

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A health worker sprays a colleague with disinfectant during a training session for Congolese health workers to deal with Ebola virus in Kinshasa, Oct. 21, 2014. The process of removing the full-body protective suit is a prime opportunity for infection if the surface of the gear is contaminated. VOA

Daylight-powered microbe-killing masks and suits may someday help protect health workers from deadly germs like Ebola, according to new research.

Scientists have developed membranes that produce a tiny bit of disinfecting hydrogen peroxide when exposed to light. They could find their way into food packaging as well, the researchers say, helping cut down on foodborne diseases.

The research is published in the journal Science Advances.

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“If there’s any live bacteria or virus on the surface, it’s still transmissible and could cause infection,” said University of California, Davis, researcher Gang Sun. Pexels

Nearly 500 health workers died during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Front-line caregivers wear full-body protective suits when they come into contact with patients with virulent diseases, but the process of removing the gear is a prime opportunity for infection if the surface is contaminated.

Sun and colleagues developed membranes that could line the outside of that protective gear. When exposed to daylight, molecules on the surface of these membranes react with oxygen in the air to produce small amounts of hydrogen peroxide — less than what you’d use to remove laundry stains, but enough to kill germs, according to Sun.

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“The approach is quite novel,” said University of Maryland food scientist Rohan Tikekar, who was not involved with this research. He says others have developed materials that produce disinfecting chemicals, but most only work under high-energy ultraviolet light. Pexels

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The new membrane also works in the dark, for at least an hour or two, thanks to chemical properties that recharge its germ-killing powers.

“That is a really significant improvement,” Tikekar added.

In addition to coating protective gear for health workers, Sun says adding a layer of this material to fresh-produce packaging could reduce contamination and prolong storage life.

Some versions of the material use natural compounds. Sun says one of the next steps is to make it edible. VOA

Next Story

New Antibody Approach to Tackle Ebola, Research To Make Successful Treatments For The Deadly Viral Infection

Antibodies intended for treatment are normally collected from the blood of people who have survived infection. But they can also be tricky to obtain and carry heightened risks such as potential persistent viruses or other pathogens.

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A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a boy who had contact with an Ebola sufferer in the village of Mangina, in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Aug. 18, 2018. VOA

Scientists working on developing vaccines against Ebola have found they can “harvest” antibodies from volunteers vaccinated in research trials and use them to make treatments for the deadly viral infection.

In a study published Tuesday in the journal Cell Reports, the scientists said the approach could be used for Ebola and other newly emerging deadly diseases caused by viruses.

The technique, based on people exposed to the Ebola vaccine but not the Ebola virus itself, suggests protective therapies could be developed from people who are disease-free.

“It is a small, extra step that could lead to new antibody therapies from an increased pool of donors and with reduced risk,” said Alain Townsend, a professor at the MRC Human Immunology Unit at Britain’s Oxford University.

FILE - Health workers treat an unconfirmed Ebola patient inside an Ebola Treatment Center (ETC) in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nov. 3, 2018.
Health workers treat an unconfirmed Ebola patient inside an Ebola Treatment Center (ETC) in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nov. 3, 2018.

He noted that besides Ebola, many experimental vaccines for other life-threatening infections, such as H5N1 and H7N9 bird flu and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), are entering clinical trials and could offer similar opportunities for antibodies to be collected.

Ebola is now spreading in Democratic Republic of Congo, where World Health Organization data show at least 676 people have been killed and more than 700 others infected in an outbreak that started eight months ago.

The largest Ebola epidemic in history swept through Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in 2013-2016, killing more than 11,000 people. That outbreak prompted a global push to develop vaccines and treatments — and some, including a protective shot developed by Merck and several antibody therapies for infected patients, have been deployed in the Congo outbreak.

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The technique, based on people exposed to the Ebola vaccine but not the Ebola virus itself, suggests protective therapies could be developed from people who are disease-free. Pixbay

Antibodies intended for treatment are normally collected from the blood of people who have survived infection. But they can also be tricky to obtain and carry heightened risks such as potential persistent viruses or other pathogens.

The Oxford team decided to try using blood from trial volunteers who had been given an experimental Ebola vaccine and whose immune system had responded to the shot by making antibodies. They successfully isolated 82 antibodies taken from 11 volunteers in trial at Oxford’s Jenner Institute.

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They found that despite having less time to develop, a third of the antibodies were effective at neutralizing a strain of Ebola known as Zaire — the one causing the Congo outbreak.

The scientists then made a cocktail of four of the antibodies to create a treatment, which successfully cured six guinea pigs of Ebola when it was administered three days after infection. (VOA)