Northeastern chemical engineer Thomas Webster, who specializes in developing nano-scale medicine and technology to treat diseases, is part of a contingency of scientists who are contributing ideas and technology to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fight the COVID-19 outbreak, the university announced.

The idea of using nanoparticles is that the virus behind COVID-19 consists of a structure of a similar scale to nanoparticles, Webster - a BMES fellow - said in the article. At that scale, matter is ultra-small, about ten thousand times smaller than the width of a single strand of hair.


Since the outbreak began in late 2019, researchers have been racing to learn more about SARS-CoV-2, which is a strain from a family of viruses known as coronavirus for their crown-like shape, the article states.


Webster is proposing particles of similar sizes that could attach to SARS-CoV-2 viruses, disrupting their structure with a combination of infrared light treatment. That structural change would then halt the ability of the virus to survive and reproduce in the body.


“You have to think in this size range, in the nanoscale size range, if you want to detect viruses, if you want to deactivate them” Webster said in the article. Webster is the Art Zafiropoulo Chair of chemical engineering at Northeastern. 


Finding and neutralizing viruses with nanomedicine is at the core of what Webster and other researchers call theranostics, which focuses on combining therapy and diagnosis. Using that approach, his lab has specialized in nanoparticles to fight the microbes that cause influenza and tuberculosis.


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