This past week we discussed carbon, air, and pollution. Jodi, Dario, and I were paired in the carbon group and decided in light of the coronavirus pandemic that we wanted to focus on creating a filter that was accessible and useful to the public. The end goal behind this mask would be to filter out processed carbon that is capable of carrying virus particulates that infect the population. A diagram of our proposal can be shown below:
Carbon mask prototype created by Dario
After this class, I reflected back on Dr. James Gimzewksi's talk in which he brought up carbon nanotubes. I came to the realization that carbon serves as a juxtaposition to itself in that it not only plays a role in increasing virus susceptibility as described in the graphic above, but also simultaneously serves as a catalyst to improve virus immunity. Carbon nanotubes come to a forefront during this health crisis for their use in helping develop the ever-needed vaccine. According to the Center for Disease Control ("CDC"), the earliest a vaccine can be developed is within a 12 to 18 month timeframe. The usual vaccine turnaround time to create, test, and ultimately receive FDA approval is typically 5 years. Carbon nanotubes play a vital role in reducing that time frame and allowing a vaccine to hopefully arrive in the public domain as soon as possible. Carbon nanotubes are generally distinguished between single-walled and multi-walled. According to Dr. Jia Choi from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the major difference is that single-walled carbon nanotubes ("SWCNT") consists of a single graphene cylinder whereas a multi-walled carbon nanotube ("MWCNT") comprises of several concentric graphene cylinders. While both are highly regarded in the medical community, MWCNT are more regularly used in recent developments of vaccines due to their more aqueous nature in conjunction with their prolific abilities to bind to macromolecules such as proteins and oligosaccharides.
Single-walled (left) and multi-walled (right) carbon nanotubes
Carbon nanotubes were first widely used for vaccine development during the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak. Its implementation over a decade ago pointed to the need for an effective vaccine to induce a potent immune response at either a cellular level, stimulating cytotoxic T cells that target infected cells, or a humoral level, through the stimulation of the production of antibodies. Returning to the present day situation, developers will need to find a way for carbon nanotubes to identify and bond to COVID-19 infected cells, particularly those surrounding the inner layers of the lungs, where the virus takes its toll.
Coronavirus in the lungs
The coronavirus enters the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Once the virus penetrates the exterior, it moves to the throat where your white blood cells attempt to fight off and kill the foreign bacterial cells. This is the stage in which a sore throat is likely to begin. As the body exerts more energy to fight the virus, a fever develops. Intense care is generally sought after once the coronavirus cells enter the lungs, in which they cause the air sockets to fill with water or puss, making breathing much more difficult. Carbon nanotubes utilized in a vaccine will need to be implemented early on during the virus' pathway to truly limit hospitalizations and prevent fatality in the future.
Carbon nanotubes currently being used in vaccines have great similarities in their application in the conservation of art. In particular, in November 2011 the University of Florence launched the first carbon nanotube based art conservation project: the Intelligent Mobile Multipurpose Accurate Thermoelectrical Device ("IMAT"). During its 3 year time span, a consortium of European researchers developed new technology and devices specifically designed for highly accurate mild heating in the conservation of artworks and other cultural heritage assets. This group of nanoscientists designed flexible mat (hence the pun in the project's name) heaters equipped with sensors to detect and permit vapor and airflow migration. This would make art pieces less susceptible to decay by moisture and various debris.
IMAT prototype (2013)
The IMAT has yet to become a widespread methodology in art conservation, but in this context it is meant to show the extent of carbon nanotube capabilities. Medical technology giants like Moderna, Amgen, and Abbott Labs are putting carbon nanotubes into practice when trying to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. Dr. Stanley Plotkin, "the Godfather of Vaccines", recently took to CNBC to discuss how he believes nanotechnology will play a crucial role in the creation of a coronavirus cure. It is obvious that these "medtechs" can each take lessons from the application of carbon nanotubes in art conservation to help speed the process of antibody treatment that can and will help save millions of lives for years to come!
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Dundro, Jared. IMAT sensor. Photograph. 2012. https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/283110
Wilson, John. COVID-19 Impacts. Photograph. 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/13/what-happens-to-your-lungs-with-coronavirus-covid-19
Unknown. SWCNT vs. MWCNT. Photograph. 2014. https://www.cheaptubes.com/the-difference-between-single-walled-and-multi-walled-carbon-nanotubes/