SAN ANTONIO – The U.S. Department of Defense is funding two studies by the Texas Biomedical Research Institute to find effective, long-term ways to disinfect surfaces and the air indoors contaminated by the coronavirus and other pathogens.
Dr. Mark Ervin, a medical advisor with the 59TH Medical Wing in the Science and Technology Wing at Joint Base-Lackland, said the nearly $2 million contract is “a perfect example of how a military-civilian research partnership can work together to improve the quality of research and improve the outcomes that benefit not only the military as well as the entire population.”
Dr. Luis Martinez-Sobrido, a scientist at Texas Biomed, said, “If there is something very clear that we should have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is how vulnerable we are as a country.”
They said the hope is the studies will show how two existing disinfecting technologies could potentially avoid future contaminations.
One study involves zeolites — naturally occurring minerals that are known anti-microbials.
That study will test coatings produced by Zeovation, an Ohio-based company, that will be applied to COVID-19 contaminated surfaces over different periods of time.
After that, Martinez-Sobrido said, “We will try to recover the virus that we put in these materials and see if the virus is still infectious.”
Ervin said zeolites also have the potential of someday being mixed into other surface materials, such as paint, bedsheets, toys and other items.
The study will help determine how long that protection will last.
But, Ervin said in some cases, zeolites have a zone of protection with the ability to recharge like a battery.
“It’s sort of like having a sniper in a cage so that they can continue to defend, but they can never leave,” Ervin said.
The other study involves a technology that was developed by the military more than a decade ago for biodefense, and has since been effective in mold remediation.
“The technology takes water molecules that are in the air and converts them to hydrogen peroxide,” Ervin said, “but in low levels, making it safe to breathe.”
Ervin said this same technology could be used to sterilize the inside of HVAC air conditioning systems.
Martinez-Sobrido said Texas Biomed will use mice to test the effectiveness of devices that are able to produce the hydrogen peroxide.
“What we’re going to do is aerosolize the virus into mice in the presence or absence of these devices that produce these hydrogen peroxide at different rates and different concentrations,” Martinez-Sobrido said.
“If we can clean the air and clean the surfaces, we can turn those two things into our partners in fighting infectious disease,” Ervin said.