Research spearheaded by St Andrews University and carried out jointly with NHS Tayside and Dundee University could see ultraviolet light used to safely kill airborne viruses – including Covid-19.
Almost £300,000 of government funding has been pledged towards two new studies which will investigate the safety and efficacy of Far-UVC, a type of ultraviolet light that can significantly reduce the risk of person-to-person indoor transmission of coronavirus and other diseases such as influenza.
Research has already found that the particular type of ultraviolet light known as Far-UVC could be safely used to disinfect air in public places.
The first grant of £160,000 from the UK Government’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will allow skin safety studies with volunteers to be carried out in clinical trials at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, while a second award of £136,000 will allow virologists from the Biomedical Sciences Research Complex at the University of St Andrews to conduct studies at a bioaerosol facility at the University of Leeds.
The bioaerosol study will assess the effectiveness of Far-UVC light by releasing bacteria and viruses in a room-sized area and then testing the level of viral reduction.
Lord Bethell, health Minister at the UK Department of Health and Social Care, said: “I am delighted that we are funding this trailblazing study by the University of St Andrews.
“This could give us a brand new weapon in our fight against Covid-19, harnessing the unique power of ultraviolet light to help eliminate the risk posed by this dreadful virus.
“The UK’s approach to this global pandemic has been defined by an extraordinary ability to innovate and find new ways to tackle this disease. Government-backed studies like this will help us not only turn the tables on this coronavirus but improve our long-term preparedness for the diseases of the future.”
A large interdisciplinary team was created last year to expand knowledge on the potential for Far-UVC light with colleagues at Ninewells Hospital, the Universities of St Andrews, Dundee and Leeds, Heriot-Watt University and Columbia University in New York along with local companies Fluid Gravity Engineering in St Andrews and Ten Bio in Dundee.
The use of ultraviolet-C (UVC) light is already well established as a technology for tackling viruses, but conventional UVC light can cause acute skin reddening and eye damage, limiting its use in occupied spaces.
However, when appropriately used, Far-UVC does not appear to produce the same negative effects, and existing studies show it is likely to be safe to use in occupied indoor places.
Dr Kenneth Wood, of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St Andrews, said: “We know that Far-UVC light efficiently destroys viruses and bacteria in laboratory experiments.
“Scaling this up to room-sized environments in the Leeds facility will allow real-world testing of this new and very promising technology.”
Dr Ewan Eadie, of Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital, added: “Far-UVC light has the potential to revolutionise the fight against airborne transmission of not just SARS-CoV-2 and its mutant variants, but all airborne viruses including seasonal influenza.
“However, there are a lack of human safety data and an urgent need for more safety information on this deployed technology, which our clinical trial will address.”
The new clinical trials will allow the research to investigate changes in the skin to both acute high-dose Far-UVC exposure and to repeated lower dose exposures.
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