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Biomaterials could mean better vaccines, virus-fighting surfaces in hospitals

These developments may decrease the likelihood that future pandemics will match COVID-19's disruption to the U.S. healthcare system.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

A medical room with three beds and curtainsA medical room with three beds and curtains

Advances in the fields of biomaterials and nanotechnology could lead to big breakthroughs in the fight against dangerous viruses like the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – and provide some relief to frontline healthcare workers in the process.

In APL Bioengineering, researchers from the Indian Institute of Science describe two possibilities being explored by scientists in the field to make vaccines more effective, and build surfaces that could fight and kill viruses on their own.

That has implications for COVID-19, of course, but also other viral infections such as SARS, MERS and Ebola, in decreasing the likelihood that future pandemics will match the coronavirus in terms of disruption to society and to the U.S. healthcare system.

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Biomaterials are materials engineered to interact with other biological systems in some way. Examples include joint replacements, dental implants, surgical mesh and drug delivery systems.

Nanotechnology, meanwhile, focuses on building tiny structures and devices at the microscopic level. It has been used in the medical field to target specific cells or tissues.

It's the combination of the two that could lead to more effective vaccines against viruses. While some current vaccines are already effective, the authors said biomaterials-based nanoparticles could one day be used to make them even stronger. That in turn has potential to prevent the kinds of financial losses that have plagued healthcare organizations as they scramble to secure beds, ventilators, and equipment and attempt to retain patients during the current pandemic.

At the same time, researchers are studying ways the technology could be used to curb the spread of viruses in the world generally. Currently, the techniques used to disinfect surfaces in public places, from conventional cleaning to aerosols to ultraviolet light, can require lots of time and effort.

Emerging bioengineering technologies would create antiviral surfaces that could disinfect themselves.

By putting a natural charge on the surface or designing it at the nano-level in an unfriendly pattern for the virus, masks, PPE suits, hospital beds, doorknobs and other items could be created that automatically damage or destroy a virus.

The authors note this research is in its infancy. Much work remains to be done to learn which of many biomaterials may be most effective at fighting viruses, and an answer for one disease likely will not be the same for others.


Mass vaccination efforts continue in the U.S. On January 27, President Joe Biden announced he is ramping up COVID-19 vaccine distribution to have 200 million doses delivered by the end of the summer. This is an additional 100 million doses Biden set as his goal for his first 100 days in office.

The increases in the total vaccine order in the United States from 400 million ordered to 600 million doses will be enough vaccine to fully vaccinate 300 Americans by the end of the summer or the beginning of fall, Biden said.

This week, the government is sending one million COVID-19 vaccine doses directly to 6,500 pharmacies, in addition to the 10.5 million doses already earmarked for states, tribes and territories. The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program will begin on Thursday, and because supply is currently limited, consumers are asked to check their state guidelines on eligibility and to make an appointment.

Experts predict the death toll of COVID-19 will reach 500,000 in the U.S. by the end of February.

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