Arum Han, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M University, and his collaborators designed an experimental system that shows the exposure of SARS-CoV-2 to a very high temperature, even if it is applied for less than a second, may be enough to neutralize the virus so that it can no longer infect another human host.
The application of heat to neutralize COVID-19 has already been demonstrated, but in previous studies temperatures were applied from one to 20 minutes. This duration is not a practical solution, as the application of heat for a long period of time is both difficult and expensive. Han and his team have now demonstrated that heat treatment for less than a second completely inactivates the coronavirus – offering a possible solution to mitigate the continued spread of COVID-19, particularly through long-range air transmission. .
The Medistar Corporation approached leaders and researchers at the College of Engineering in the spring of 2020 to collaborate and explore the possibility of applying heat for a short time to kill COVID-19. Soon after, Han and his team got to work and built a system to study the feasibility of such a procedure.
Their process works by heating a section of a stainless steel tube, through which the solution containing the coronavirus is run, to a high temperature, and then cooling the section immediately after. This experimental setup allows the coronavirus that passes through the tube to be heated only for a very short period of time. Through this rapid thermal process, the team discovered that the virus was completely neutralized in a much shorter time than previously thought. Their first results were published within two months of the proof-of-concept experiments.
Han said that if the solution was heated to nearly 72 degrees Celsius for about half a second, it could reduce the titer of the virus, or the amount of virus in the solution, by 100,000 times, which is enough to neutralize the virus. viruses and prevent transmission.
“The potential impact is huge,” Han said. “I was curious how high temperatures can be in record time and see if we can indeed heat-inactivate the coronavirus in a very short period of time. And whether or not such a temperature-based coronavirus neutralization strategy would work from a practical standpoint. The main driver was, “Can we do something that can alleviate the situation with the coronavirus?” “
Their research was presented on the vson the May issue of the journal Biotechnology and bioengineering.
Not only is this heat treatment in less than a second a more efficient and practical solution to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the air, but it also allows the implementation of this method in existing systems, such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. .
It can also lead to potential applications with other viruses, such as the influenza virus, which also spread through the air. Han and coworkers expect this method of heat inactivation can be widely applied and have a real global impact.
“The flu is less dangerous but still turns out to be fatal every year, so if that can lead to the development of an air purification system, that would be a huge deal, not only with the coronavirus, but for others. airborne viruses in general, ”Han said. .
In their future work, investigators will build a microfluidic scale test chip that will allow them to heat treat viruses for much shorter periods of time, say, tens of milliseconds, in hopes of identifying a temperature that will allow the virus. be inactivated even with such a short exposure time.
The main authors of the work are postdoctoral researchers in electrical engineering, Yuqian Jiang and Han Zhang. Other collaborators on this project are Professor Julian L. Leibowitz and Associate Professor Paul de Figueiredo of the College of Medicine; biomedical postdoctoral researcher Jose A. Wippold; Jyotsana Gupta, associate researcher in microbial pathogenesis and immunology; and Jing Dai, assistant researcher in electrical engineering.
This work was supported by grants from Medistar Corporation. Several members of the research staff of the project team also received grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.