Tackling COVID-19 with materials science

Materials science (imaging, microfluidics, antiviral drugs, vaccines, personal protective equipment, organoids, organs-on-a-chip, medical equipment, etc.) contributes to SARS-CoV-2 research and provides tools for the understanding, protection, detection, and treatment of future viral diseases.

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In our recent Nature Reviews Materials featured cover paper (A materials-science perspective on tackling COVID-19. Nat Rev Mater 5, 847–860 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41578-020-00247-y), we discussed the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic that highlights the importance of materials science in providing tools and technologies for antiviral research and treatment development. In this Review, we discuss previous efforts in materials science in developing imaging systems and microfluidic devices for the in-depth and real-time investigation of viral structures and transmission, as well as material platforms for the detection of viruses and the delivery of antiviral drugs and vaccines. We highlight the contribution of materials science to the manufacturing of personal protective equipment and to the design of simple, accurate and low-cost virus-detection devices. We then investigate future possibilities of materials science in antiviral research and treatment development, examining the role of materials in antiviral-drug design, including the importance of synthetic material platforms for organoids and organs-on-a-chip, in drug delivery and vaccination, and for the production of medical equipment. Materials-science-based technologies not only contribute to the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 research efforts but can also provide platforms and tools for the understanding, protection, detection and treatment of future viral diseases.

Fig. 1: SARS-CoV-2 and materials science.

Fig. 1: SARS-CoV-2 and materials science. Top| The structure, transmission routes and replication cycles of SARS-CoV-2. Bottom| Materials science contributes to the development and optimization of protective equipment and provides technologies and tools for the analysis of SARS-CoV-2, for example, high-resolution imaging, for sequencing (PCR) and protein analysis (immunoassays), for viral detection, for vaccine and treatment development and delivery, as well as by contributing advanced materials for clinical instruments, for example, filters for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machines. SNP, single nucleotide polymorphism.
Fig. 2: Materials science in viral research and protection.  a | Single-virus tracking workflow using fluorescence microscopy. The representative image shows an influenza virus in Chinese hamster ovary cells (z-stacked time-lapse images, the colour code from pink/blue to yellow/white indicates the timescale from 0 s to 500 s). b | There are three possible imaging geometries in single-virus tracking, that is, epifluorescence geometry (Epi), confocal microscopy and total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) geometry. 
Fig. 2: Materials science in viral research and protection. a | Single-virus tracking workflow using fluorescence microscopy. The representative image shows an influenza virus in Chinese hamster ovary cells (z-stacked time-lapse images, the colour code from pink/blue to yellow/white indicates the timescale from 0 s to 500 s). b | There are three possible imaging geometries in single-virus tracking, that is, epifluorescence geometry (Epi), confocal microscopy and total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) geometry.  Panel a adapted with permission from ref.12, PNAS. Panels a and b reprinted from ref.11, Springer Nature Limited.
Fig. 2: Materials science in viral research and protection.
Fig. 2: Materials science in viral research and protection. c | Nanopore sequencing using a nanosize pore and sensing regions in Mycobacterium smegmatis porin A (MspA) and α-haemolysin. d | A self-powered air filter can capture particulate matter and nanoparticles by surface adhesion. Arg, argon ion; BS, beam splitter; CCD, charge-coupled device; DM, dichroic mirror; F, filter; M, mirror; Nd:YAG, neodymium-doped yttrium aluminium garnet; S, shutters; SL, optical slits to control image size.  Panel c reprinted from ref.13, Springer Nature Limited. Panel d reprinted from ref.34CC BY 4.0.
Fig. 3: Materials science in virus detection.
Fig. 3: Materials science in virus detection. a | Multiplexed Zika virus/dengue virus (ZIKV/DENV) antigen microarray combining nanostructured plasmonic gold and near-infrared fluorescence molecules. Antibodies against ZIKV and DENV antigens in human serum are first captured by the microarray and then labelled with anti-human immunoglobulin G-infrared fluorescent dye 680 (IgG-IRDye680) and immunoglobulin A-infrared fluorescent dye 800 (IgA-IRDye800). Binding between IgG and IgA with antigens is evaluated by measuring the fluorescence intensities of the two dyes. Panel a reprinted from ref.7, Springer Nature Limited.
Fig. 3: Materials science in virus detection.
Fig. 3: Materials science in virus detection. b | Nanowire-based detection of single viruses. Binding of the virus to a specific antibody (Ab) leads to a change in conductance. Panel b reprinted with permission from ref.38, PNAS.
Fig. 3: Materials science in virus detection. c | An external electrical pulse and biosensors based on graphene quantum dots (GQDs) and gold-embedded polyaniline nanowires (AuNP-PAni) can be used for the detection of hepatitis E virus (HEV). The biosensor electrode, which is based on anti-HEV Ab-conjugated to nitrogen and sulfur codoped graphene quantum dots and gold-embedded polyaniline nanowires (Ab-N,S-GQDs@AuNP-PAni), can capture HEV. The HEV concentration is determined from the pulse-induced impedimetric response. 
Fig. 3: Materials science in virus detection. c | An external electrical pulse and biosensors based on graphene quantum dots (GQDs) and gold-embedded polyaniline nanowires (AuNP-PAni) can be used for the detection of hepatitis E virus (HEV). The biosensor electrode, which is based on anti-HEV Ab-conjugated to nitrogen and sulfur codoped graphene quantum dots and gold-embedded polyaniline nanowires (Ab-N,S-GQDs@AuNP-PAni), can capture HEV. The HEV concentration is determined from the pulse-induced impedimetric response. Panel c reprinted from ref.39CC BY 4.0.
Fig. 3: Materials science in virus detection.
Fig. 3: Materials science in virus detection. d | A single-molecule whispering gallery mode biosensor platform using plasmonic gold nanorods can be used to detect single nucleic acid molecules. EDC, 1-ethyl-3-(3-dimethylaminopropyl) carbodiimide hydrochloride; GCE, glass carbon electrode; NHS, N-hydroxysuccinimide; N,S-GQDs, nitrogen and sulfur codoped graphene quantum dots; PBS, polarizing beam splitter; PD, photodetector; PDMS, polydimethylsiloxane. Panel d reprinted from ref.47, Springer Nature Limited.
Fig. 4: Materials science in the treatment and vaccination of viral diseases.
Fig. 4: Materials science in the treatment and vaccination of viral diseases. a | Gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) coated with long and flexible moieties of undecanesulfonic acid (MUS) show viricidal activity against heparan sulfate proteoglycan (HSPG)-binding viruses, owing to the generation of high forces (~190 pN), which irreversibly deform the virus; by contrast, 3-mercaptoethylsulfonate (MES)-coated AuNPs are not antiviral because of the short molecule length. Panel a reprinted from ref.60, Springer Nature Limited.
Fig. 4: Materials science in the treatment and vaccination of viral diseases. b | Nasal delivery of inactivated H1N1 influenza virus and pulmonary surfactant guanosine monophosphate–adenosine monophosphate (PS-GAMP; an activator of stimulator of interferon genes (STING)) leads to the stimulation of dendritic cell (DC) maturation, antibody generation and, subsequently, to a CD8+ T cell and tissue-resident memory T (TRM) cell response, generating broad protection against seasonal influenza B virus (IBV), H3N2, H5N1 and H7N9 influenza viruses. 
Fig. 4: Materials science in the treatment and vaccination of viral diseases. b | Nasal delivery of inactivated H1N1 influenza virus and pulmonary surfactant guanosine monophosphate–adenosine monophosphate (PS-GAMP; an activator of stimulator of interferon genes (STING)) leads to the stimulation of dendritic cell (DC) maturation, antibody generation and, subsequently, to a CD8+ T cell and tissue-resident memory T (TRM) cell response, generating broad protection against seasonal influenza B virus (IBV), H3N2, H5N1 and H7N9 influenza viruses. Panel b from ref.84, Herold, S. & Sander, L.-E. Toward a universal flu vaccine. Science 367, 852–853 (2020). Redrawn with permission from AAAS.
Fig. 4: Materials science in the treatment and vaccination of viral diseases. c | Lipid nanoparticles can be used for the delivery of a Zika virus pre-membrane and envelope (ZIKV prM-E)-encoding mRNA vaccine against the Zika virus. Delivering a ZIKV prM-E fusion loop mutant-encoding mRNA diminishes the generation of cross-reactive antibodies that promote Dengue virus infection. 
Fig. 4: Materials science in the treatment and vaccination of viral diseases. c | Lipid nanoparticles can be used for the delivery of a Zika virus pre-membrane and envelope (ZIKV prM-E)-encoding mRNA vaccine against the Zika virus. Delivering a ZIKV prM-E fusion loop mutant-encoding mRNA diminishes the generation of cross-reactive antibodies that promote Dengue virus infection. Panel c reprinted with permission from ref.89, Elsevier.
Fig. 4: Materials science in the treatment and vaccination of viral diseases.
Fig. 4: Materials science in the treatment and vaccination of viral diseases. d | During extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, venous blood is drained from the body, oxygenated by fresh gas (the blender modulates the ratio between air and oxygen) using a gas-exchange device and then returned to the body. AEC, alveolar epithelial cell. Panel d from ref.95N. Engl. J. Med. Brodie, D. & Bacchetta, M. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation for ARDS in adults. 365, 1905–1914. Copyright © (2011) Massachusetts Medical Society. Reprinted with permission from Massachusetts Medical Society.
Fig. 5: Timeline of key contributions of materials science to virology.
Fig. 5: Timeline of key contributions of materials science to virology.

Related reading:https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7114-1095  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41578-020-00247-y  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-12462-5 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21436-5  

Dr. Xingcai Zhang, Harvard/MIT Research Fellow; Science Writer/Editorial (Advisory) Board Member for Springer Nature, Elsevier, Materials Today, Royal Society of Chemistry, Wiley; Nature Nano Ambassador with 5 STEM degrees/strong background in sustainable Nature-derived/inspired/mimetic materials for biomed/sensing/catalysis/energy/environment applications, with around 100 high-impact journal publications in Nature Reviews Materials (featured cover paper), etc.  https://scholar.google.com/citations?hl=en&user=2vDraMoAAAAJ&view_op=list_works&sortby=pubdate

Contact: Dr. Xingcai Zhang xingcai@mit.edu  chemmike1984@gmail.com +1-2253041387 wechat:drtea1

Xingcai Zhang

Harvard/MIT Research Fellow, Harvard University

Sustainable Nature-inspired/dervied/mimetic materials, nanomaterials, biomedicine, lab-on-chip, 2D/C/porous/polymer materials, tea. Dr. Xingcai Zhang, Harvard/MIT Research Fellow; Science Writer/Editorial (Advisory) Board Member for Springer Nature, Elsevier, Materials Today, Royal Society of Chemistry, Wiley; Nature Nano Ambassador with 5 STEM degrees/strong background in sustainable Nature-derived/inspired/mimetic materials for biomed/sensing/catalysis/energy/environment applications, with around 100 high-impact journal publications in Nature Reviews Materials (featured cover paper), etc. https://scholar.google.com/citations?hl=en&user=2vDraMoAAAAJ&view_op=list_works&sortby=pubdate https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7114-1095 Contact: xingcai@mit.edu +1-2253041387 wechat:drtea1