New Delhi | Jagran Lifestyle Desk: As the world grapples to fight off the novel coronavirus pandemic, the personal protective equipment (PPE) kits and N95 masks are running short of supply, giving it an exploitative face to many of the key manufacturers, based on the Chinese mainland.

The frontline fighters against the virus – be it the law enforcement authorities or our doctors and nurses, the key to their fight and by virtue of them, people’s fight against COVID-19 depends totally upon the primary protection they get while they are at the frontline.

Though, the production from quality manufacturers has ramped up considerably – the demand-supply gap continues to be disproportionate.

Amid this conundrum of demand-supply gap, an Indian Phd. student from Bengaluru, Tanush Jagdish, who is currently studying ‘Program for Systems, Synthetic and Quantitative Biology’ at Harvard University, has found an innovative way to decontaminate the most essential of all commodity for medical workers - N-95 masks.

And no, his idea isn’t bland microwaving the masks. Not at all.

Jagdish has tested the decontamination process by putting an N95 mask on the top of a glass container filled with water and a mesh net separating the mask, and subsequently microwaving it.

While he, so far, hasn’t  tested it on the actual strain of COVID-19, he did perform a successful test it on a very similar virus - MS2.

"MS2 is a virus which infects the bacterium E. coli, not humans. We can make billions of new MS2 everyday by infecting E. coli with old MS2 and harvesting new MS2 once the E. coli are infected. We can also use a method called 'plaque assays' to measure how many viruses remain on masks. For this, we take all the viruses on a mask and add them on to E. coli growing on a petri dish. The viruses will make little holes or 'plaques' in the E. coli. By counting the number of plaques on the petri dish, we can extrapolate and back-calculate how many viruses were on the mask in the first place," Jagdish, Graduate Student Fellow at the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital, was quoted as saying by News18.

Jagdish explained how he came up with this through the most basic idea of decontamination: heated temperatures.

Heat is generally one of the easiest methods used in decontamination across all major laboratories and hospitals, the primary sterilization method for the most basic medical instruments is high heat under high pressure.

"Steam is incorporated within these methods because it can permeate through layers and increase the overall surface area and volume of decontamination. Moist heat is known to be much better at killing microbes because it denatures the overall structures of important enzymes, which end up coagulating and crashing out of solution," Jagdish added further.

Recently, the pictures went viral in the United States, where a woman worker in a non-essential service was protecting herself with a seemingly ineffective way.

The method could be the most feasible for the cost-effectiveness of such businesses in context of the protectivity required under the gloom of COVID-19 crisis.

Jagdish believes that the method could be of much use in India. He said that complicated and time-consuming methods like VHP decontamination are unlikely to be useful across many parts of India if N95s or other PPEs become short-of-supply in future.

The simple process of microwave steam, however, is much more accessible.

Posted By: Abhinav Gupta