New Protection Against Superbugs in the Works

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It seems like we’re hearing more and more about the dangers of viruses and the possible advent of an epidemic — or even a pandemic. This means that a huge number of people around the world could be at risk for serious illness and the complications this brings. You’ve heard all about the “bird flu” and you might be a little edgy about the whole thing — but now you can feel a little bit better, knowing that scientists are hard at work on ways to prevent the spread of such viruses.

 In this vein, a U.K. program is taking an innovative approach to helping stop the spread of superbugs such as SARS and the bird flu. A consortium, led by QinetiQ Nanomaterials and funded by the South East England Development Agency, aims to develop “nanomaterials” that can kill off many different viruses.

 What is nanomaterial? Well, it is based on “nanotechnology,” which is a science that involves the manipulation of material on the scale of atoms and molecules in order to manufacture items. The stuff involved in nanotechnology is amazingly small — inconceivably so for those of us who are not scientists. Creating something at this level allows for extreme precision, letting scientists engineer specific characteristics for a material.

 Dr. Guogang Ren, Queen Mary’s University of London, came upon the fact that viruses such as bird flu and SARS could be killed upon contact with specific inorganic materials at the nanoscale level. Now, Dr. Ren — along with the group involved in the program, “Team AVNP” (AntiViral NanoParticles) — is taking this concept to the next level, by working over the next two years to develop the antiviral nanomaterials.

 Team AVNP is going to work on a range of products to be used for air filters, face masks, and antiviral coatings. They plan on developing and assessing these items for use against a wide range of viruses and creating prototypes for future commercial production.

 Just imagine. . . hospitals would be much safer places — even their air would be cleaner. . . health-care workers wouldn’t be in grave danger every day on the job. . . you wouldn’t have to worry so much every time you touched something in a public place, such as the buttons on the elevator or bank machine.

 It’s indeed comforting to know that we could soon have some new science protecting us from those nasty, invisible viruses.