Early research shows fabric could neutralize coronaviruses

Corrections & clarifications: This story has been updated to clarify the development of this type of fabric dates back to 2005, when it was patented by Jeffry Skiba and Lawrence Schneider.

Claim: Researchers found a ‘fabric that kills coronaviruses’

There’s reason to be skeptical of any internet post claiming something kills the coronavirus.

Facebook in particular can be a deluge of home remedies that range from unproven to downright dangerous.

So you’d be forgiven for raising your eyebrows if you came across an Indianapolis Monthly article shared widely on Facebook saying that researchers have found a “fabric that kills coronaviruses.”

But this claim has science behind it — preliminary though it may be. Researchers discovered that low-level electric fields can render the coronavirus unable to infect a host after just a minute of exposure to the field.

Here’s what we know about this product.

More: How to clean, reuse or hack a coronavirus mask

Based on an FDA-approved concept

Though the application to the novel coronavirus is new, the technology isn’t.

The concept — called electroceutical fabric — was developed more than a decade ago, patented in 2005 by Jeffry Skiba and Lawrence Schneider. It has been approved by the FDA and sold by Vomaris under the name Procellera.

Chandan Sen, now the director of the Indiana Center for Regenerative Medicine and Engineering at the Indiana University School of Medicine, conducted a study in 2017 showing the fabric could be used as an antimicrobial wound dressing. And now he is applying the technology to combat COVID-19, with encouraging early results.

Sen detailed the potential application to COVID-19 on May 14 in a preliminary study released online at the preprint server ChemRxiv. The site publishes early versions of studies ahead of formal peer review and publication.

When the coronavirus pandemic began, Sen thought about ways his research could help, he said in a YouTube video released through Indiana University.

“We tried to put some time into understanding the physical make of this virus, and are there perhaps some weak points we could target,” Sen said.

Coronaviruses in general rely on electrostatic interactions to assemble themselves into an infective form and attach to a host.

The electroceutical fabric consists of polyester with a series of metal dots — alternating silver and zinc — printed on the surface in a geometric pattern. These metals, when exposed to moisture, create microcell batteries that generate an electrical charge. There is no wire or external battery.

“We thought then our dressing (could be) capable of disrupting those electrostatic forces, and we started testing it and the results have seemed very promising,” Sen said in the video. “You’re using a very weak electric field which is not harmful to humans … but is capable of dismantling bacterial infections, we are currently working on fungal infection, and now we see it can also incapacitate, if you will, viruses.”

Vomaris has applied through the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization program to use the fabric for COVID-19 face masks.

The Indianapolis Star reported May 26 that the company is hoping to use the fabric to develop two products: a washable mask with a disposable electroceutical fabric layer that can be inserted, and another mask designed for onetime use. The company hopes to have the products on the market by the fall flu season.

“Use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential to safeguard health care providers against COVID-19,” Sen’s study says. “However, use of these PPE itself poses significant threat as doffing of contaminated PPE carrying viable viral particles is likely to infect the person and potentially spread infection.”

Our ruling: True

We rate this claim TRUE based on our research. There’s an important caveat that these findings are preliminary. This particular application has not yet been peer-reviewed or approved by the FDA, but initial research shows electroceutical fabric is indeed able to neutralize the virus after a minute of contact with the electrical field generated by the fabric. The company that already manufacturers this product for use as a wound dressing hopes to have it ready for release later this year in antiviral face masks.

Our fact-check sources

  • Indianapolis Monthly, IU Researchers Identify Fabric That Kills Coronaviruses, May 21, 2020

  • IU Vice President for Research on YouTube, COVID-19 Neutralizing Masks, May 18, 2020

  • Indianapolis Star, Face masks made from fabric IU scientist developed could kill the coronavirus, May 26, 2020

  • Indiana University, IU research shows electroceutical fabric eradicates coronaviruses on contact, May 18, 2020

  • ChemRxiv, Electroceutical Fabric Lowers Zeta Potential and Eradicates Coronavirus Infectivity upon Contact, May 14, 2020

  • Vomaris, Procellera, accessed May 29, 2020

  • Ohio State University, Study Shows Electric Bandages Can Fight Biofilm Infection, Antimicrobial Resistance, Nov. 6, 2017

Contact Eric Litke at (414) 225-5061 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ericlitke.

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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Fabric may neutralize coronaviruses with electricity

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