Science and industry join forces in Italy to laser-zap COVID


ROME, July 2 – A United Nations-backed scientific research center has teamed up with an Italian technology company to investigate whether laser light can be used to kill airborne coronavirus particles and keep indoor spaces safe.

The joint effort between the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) of Trieste, a city in northern Italy, and the nearby Eltech K-Laser company started last year when COVID-19 struck the country.

They developed a device that pushes air through a sterilization chamber that contains a laser beam filter that pulverizes viruses and bacteria.

“I thought lasers were more for a shaman than a doctor, but I had to change my mind. The device was able to kill the viruses in less than 50 milliseconds, ”said Serena Zacchigna, group leader for cardiovascular biology at the ICGEB.

Healthy interiors with a significantly reduced number of pathogens are considered essential to public health in the post-COVID-19 crisis, a respiratory infection that has caused more than four million deaths worldwide in just under 18 months.

Zacchigna has teamed up with Italian engineer Francesco Zanata, founder of Eltech K-Laser, a medical laser company whose products are used by sports stars to treat muscle inflammation and fractures.

Some experts warn of the potential pitfalls in using light-based technologies to attack the virus that is causing COVID-19.

A study published in November 2020 by the Journal of Photochemistry & Photobiology highlighted concerns ranging from potential cancer risks to the cost of expensive light sources.

But Zacchigna and Zanata denied health problems, saying the laser never comes into contact with human skin.

“Our device uses nature against nature. It’s 100% safe for humans and almost entirely recyclable, ”Zanata told Reuters.

However, the technology does not eliminate viruses and bacteria if they fall from the air onto surfaces or the floor. Neither can it prevent direct infection if an infected person sneezes or speaks loudly near another person.

Eltech K-Laser has received a patent from the Italian authorities and would like to expand this worldwide.

The portable version of the invention is about 1.8 meters tall and weighs about 55 pounds. The company said the technology could also be housed in air conditioners.

The first potential customers are now waiting in line, including EcoCare from Germany, a service provider for test and vaccination solutions.

“The company intends to license the technology for the German and UAE markets,” said an EcoCare spokesman in an email to Reuters.


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