Texas Biomedical Research Institute and the U.S. Department of Defense are teaming up to test two technologies’ ability to destroy the virus that causes COVID-19 in the air and on clinical surfaces.

Under two subcontracts totaling $1.95 million that Texas Biomed announced late last week, it will test an antimicrobial coating and hydrogen peroxide gas for medical treatment facilities where surfaces cannot be regularly disinfected, such as in combat areas.

The first of these studies will test the effectiveness of coating surfaces with a special zeolite formula created by ZeoVation, an Ohio State University startup that creates products out of zeolite. Zeolite is a naturally occurring mineral with antimicrobial properties. The study aims to determine whether these treated surfaces can “self-decontaminate” against SARS-CoV-2, as well as against flu viruses, mold, and bacteria, according to a Texas Biomed press release.

“We [want] to look at how fast the coating works, meaning how soon after coating a surface will it display antimicrobial properties,” said Amber Mallory, director of trauma and clinical care research for the Air Force’s 59th Medical Wing Science and Technology Office and one of three leaders of the studies. “We want to also look at how long the antimicrobial properties last on each surface, and of course, what microbes it works against.” 

The study will test a dozen materials from cotton to metals over different ranges of time. The researchers also will test different application strategies, from painting a surface with the coating to applying a light spray of it to determine if the method of application impacts effectiveness.

Texas Biomed professors Luis Martinez-Sobrido and Jordi Torrelles, the other two study leaders, will work inside Texas Biomed’s Biosafety Level 3 facilities, one of the most secure biosafety labs in the nation, with the goal of determining if a zeolite coating can prevent the spread of respiratory infections such as COVID-19.

A second study will determine whether adding low levels of hydrogen peroxide into the air of an indoor facility can sanitize the air and improve air quality.

“Very low levels of hydrogen peroxide are safe to breathe,” Martinez-Sobrido said. “So we are testing whether significantly low levels of hydrogen peroxide gas, even lower than [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] standards, can be pumped into contained spaces and inactivate microbes in an effort to reduce respiratory pathogens transmission, including SARS-CoV-2, through the air.”

This is a technology that originated in mold treatments, and while there are multiple systems on the market that can provide this service, none has been formally tested against COVID-19, Texas Biomed said in the release.

“We are excited to learn whether these technologies, designed for other purposes, can play a crucial role in disinfecting spaces where people gather – places like ERs, dormitories, classrooms, and more,” Torrelles said. “Ending this COVID-19 pandemic will require strategies for treating and vaccinating patients, but technologies that stop transmission prior to infection are also critical.”

Texas Biomedical Research Institute is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.