NTU scientist develops facemask which can kill viruses on contact

A new antiviral facemask which uses nanotechnology to kill viruses including COVID-19 and influenza has been designed and developed by a Nottingham Trent University (NTU) scientist.

Instead of the usual three-ply design, the five-ply surgical mask includes an additional antiviral inner layer which incorporates nano-copper created using a patented process developed at the university.

The copper, which is embedded into the mask material, has ions that are emitted once in contact with a virus and this then creates an interaction with the virus’s genetic material causing it to die and stop reproducing.

Because they are spherical, nanoparticles have a large surface area making the approach more effective at killing the virus. The antiviral inner layer ensures additional protection for both the wearer and those in proximity.

The mask has been designed by Nottingham Trent University scientist and nanotechnology expert, Dr Gareth Cave, and is now being commercialised by NTU spin out company Pharm2Farm in Nottingham’s BioCity.

The company, which was founded by Dr Cave, uses a patented process to produce and functionalise nanoparticles for a range of human, crop and animal health benefits.

Tests showed that the masks, which are Type IIR – meaning they offer the highest level of protection and have a filtration efficiency of 99.98% – were highly effective, at killing more than 90% of the influenza and coronavirus over seven hours, and have been certified to ISO 18184 standards.

The masks include a fluid-repellent layer on the outside – to reduce inhalation of droplets of saliva and mucus that carry COVID-19 – the antiviral nanotech layer between two filter layers, and a hypoallergenic breathable innermost layer.

While current conventional surgical masks block the virus, it can remain on or in the mask while being worn and after it has been disposed of.

The masks are expected to go into production in Nottingham later this month and will be commercially available from December for healthcare, transport and food service settings initially.

Despite the additional layer and the antiviral properties, the masks will be in line with current Type IIR mask prices.

“It’s exciting to see our technology move forward and make a real impact towards the fight against the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr Cave, who is based in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology.

He said: “The mask we’ve developed has been proven to inactivate viruses upon contact; the antiviral layer kills virus which has been blocked by the filter layers. The challenge with conventional surgical-type masks is that they only block virus from entering or exiting the mask. They don’t have an active mechanism for killing it once it’s trapped in the mask.

“Our new antiviral mask has been designed to utilise the existing barrier technology and combine it with our nanotechnology to kill the virus once it is trapped there.

“We’ve added the barrier layer to both sides of the mask so not only does it protect the wearer but also those around. By killing the virus on contact, it also means that the used face mask can be safely disposed of and not be a potential source of passive transfer.”

The masks have been designed and tested following an Innovate UK grant, as part of UK Research and Innovation’s response to COVID-19.