Michigan University (U-M) scientists have developed a new non-thermal plasma reactor to keep airborne transmitted diseases at bay.
The scientists have demonstrated how their reactor could help combat a disease costing U.S. pork producers nearly $650 million a year.
In lab testing, airflow containing Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome virus (PRRSv) was passed through the reactor where it was exposed to charged, highly reactive fragments of air molecules.
Tests showed that 95% of the viruses were inactivated or removed during the process.
According to the scientists, this is the first demonstration of nonthermal plasma used to inactivate an airborne virus known to cause disease in animals.
In 2017, U-M associate professor Herek Clack led a team that developed the nonthermal plasma reactor and demonstrated its performance on PRRSv virus, achieving at least 95% inactivation and removal of the virus particles.
Last year, Clack and his team challenged the nonthermal plasma reactor with a test virus, one harmless to humans.
Those results showed 99.9% of the test viruses were inactivated or removed from the air stream.
With nations around the globe struggling to contain the novel coronavirus dubbed COVID-19, this research represents a major step toward next-gen collective protection technologies that can sterilize air supplied to inhabited enclosed environments like pig farms or public transportation, such as commercial airline and cruise ship cabins.
Clack envisions the technology as an eventual replacement for the surgical mask; traditional surgical masks operate using only filtration for protection.
It could also provide complementary protection during the long development cycle required for vaccines.
“This latest research showing comparable performance for two different types of viruses demonstrates that, unlike vaccines, the protective effect of nonthermal plasmas is not dependent on viral strain,” contends Clack.
“This would mean a broader basis for protection that doesn’t involve the months or years that are needed to develop specific vaccines for each novel or emerging viral disease.”
Image and content: Robert Coelius/Michigan Engineering