New material could fight biological and chemical toxins

Scientists at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine have announced a new single, multifunctional polymer material that is able to decontaminate both biological and chemical toxins.

"Our lab applies biological principles to create materials that can do many things, just like our skin protects us from both rain and sun," senior investigator Alan Russell, Ph.D., University Professor of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and director, McGowan Institute, a joint effort of the university and UPMC, told Biomaterials. "Typically, labs engineer products that are designed to serve only one narrow function."

Conventional approaches, however, do not necessarily provide for weapons of mass destruction such as biological and chemical attacks, which terrorists will not announce before using to attack and give time to craft an effective countermeasure.

"That uncertainty calls for a single broad-spectrum decontamination material that can rapidly neutralize both kinds of threats and is easily delivered or administered, and it must not damage the environment where it is applied," Dr. Russell said. "Much work has gone into developing ways to thwart either germ or chemical weapons, and now we're combining some of them into one countermeasure."

The institute's polyurethane fiber mesh utilizes enzymes that lead to the production of bromine or iodine, which kill bacteria, and chemicals that generate compounds that detoxify organophosphate nerve agents.

"This mesh could be developed into sponges, coatings or liquid sprays, and it could be used internally or as a wound dressing that is capable of killing bacteria, viruses and spores," lead investigator Gabi Amitai, Ph.D., of the McGowan Institute and the Israel Institute for Biological Research, said. "The antibacterial and antitoxin activities do not interfere with each other, and actually can work synergistically."