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Transcript - Episode 4 - Pandemic related solutions using nanoscience technology

M: welcome to another episode of IMNANO

I: Putting the I in I M Nano, I am your host Irfani

M: and I am your other host, Monika

I: and today we will we talking about how nanotechnology can contribute to resolving pandemics

M: So, what we mean by that is nanotechnology specific solutions to pandemics, in specific for the current situation, this kind of cutting-edge overview is important so we will discuss medicines, preventions like vaccines, sensors and anti-viral nanoparticles.

I: To start, let’s talk about vaccines. What are vaccines? Why are they important? Vaccines for COVID-19 are already administered to select personnel such as front-liners!

M: Yea! Essentially, vaccines prepare your body to fight any infections from the outside world. They contain the weakened or dead components of the virus/bacteria that will stimulate your immune system to gear up and ready to go to fight the infection. So, here’s a good analogy adapted from what we’ve read on reddit that puts things into perspective really well

I: Think of your immune system as a bunch of soldiers in a fort, kinda like in the battlegrounds of the 1917 movie. If enemy soldiers get past the patrols and attack the fort, your soldiers might fight them off (you get well) or they might not (you get very ill and possibly die). Going to the hospital to be treated for the infection (calling in reinforcements) can often help, but sometimes cannot.

M: How did the enemy soldiers get past your soldiers' patrols? Their uniforms are unfamiliar, your soldiers have standing orders to attack only enemies they recognize. If they attacked soldiers they should not, they might be killing soldiers that are on your side (this would be an autoimmune disorder).

I: A vaccine, then, is an intelligence dispatch to your immune system. 'Be on the lookout for these new enemy soldiers. You'll recognize them as they are wearing the following uniforms...kill them on sight. And now, your immune system won't wait until the fort is attacked, the soldiers will attack the enemy soldiers immediately.

M: Continuing the analogy: some immunizations last a lifetime (such as for Polio) because the enemy soldiers never change their uniforms. Other enemy soldiers, such as Influenza (the "Flu") swap parts of their uniforms around constantly, so your immune system fort needs intelligence dispatches every year.

I: Wow, that means we really need to have a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 but because this is a brand-new virus, our body haven’t encountered the virus and need to be exposed to some dead version of it. So many companies raced to develop dead versions of SARS-CoV-2 to help our bodies fight off the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

M: So how does nanotechnology help in this venture?

I: The intelligence dispatch sent to your body can come in many different forms. Some of them in the form of mRNA, which is the copy of DNA that provides the template to make proteins in your body. In this case, the mRNA is going to produce proteins that is present on the virus’s surface to help your immune system to activate. To make sure that the mRNA is delivered efficiently into the cells, nanoparticles in the form of tiny molecules of fat surrounds the mRNA.

M: Tiny molecules of fat? Why do we need more fat?

I: Well, we know that the viruses can enter cells, easily right? We need to mimic the way the viruses enter the cells and one of the methods to do that is by making sure the size of the vaccine is like the viruses! These molecules of fat also stabilize the vaccine in the body. That way, instead of viruses entering the cells and making you sick, the vaccine will protect you! Now, Reuters reported that there are some videos circulating online with people concerned about nanorobots or computers inserted in your body. But don’t worry guys, it’s just small molecules of fat (which we already have?) (and we all know, we have those) in our body!

M: Oh in this case, instead of recognizing the uniform of the army, the vaccine is providing codes to your body with what to recognize in the enemy. So your soldiers are getting the training they need to keep the territory safe.

Yes, but we’ll have to also make sure that the vaccine is safe for long-term. And what is interesting is that mRNA vaccines using lipid nanoparticles was reviewed in 2016 by researchers at MIT and Harvard med in the journal of Therapeutic Deliveries and so do write a review article means that there are already quite a few studies related to the subject, about 140 references were used to write this paper already a few years ago using nanotechnology for mRNA vaccine delivery.

I: That’s right. And in the meantime, we need to continue to take precautionary measures to protect ourselves. Is there anything that can help kill the virus before it has a chance to infect us?

M: Yes! There are many studies in the past that have shown evidence of anti-viral and anti-bacterial nanoparticles that can be incorporated into fabrics or solids

I: oo tell me more!

M: Cu, Ag, TiO2 nanoparticles can be incorporated into sprays and because these particles disable pathogens to grow on them they are situable for creating coatings for protection agaisnt viruses. These materials can be integrated onto surfaces, the fibers in fabrics say in your sweater even can be reinforced with nanomaterials for high-efficiency remouval of contaminants in the air or also in the water filters, and fibers to make anti-viral clothing for example the company NanoX, in collaboration with researchers at the center for functional materials in Brazil and Universitat Jaume I has a fabric with silver nanoparticles

I: But aren’t you concerned about any toxic effects from these nanoparticles that would be in close human contact?

//However, caution should be taken because in some cases silver nanoparticles have been shown to leech out of the product and could have some environmental concerns that are unclear? (2007 study samuel linoma confirm if accurate?)

M: so the trick with these coatings to prevent viruses such as COVID-19- so the nanoparticles need to stick with the viruses they need to stick really well with the surfactants or other contents of the spray so the viruses are removed or inactivated from surfaces.

But you are right these metal nanoparticles can be harmful for the environment, like for example, ending up in our freshwater, but silver has anti bacterial properties and its cheap to make the nanoparticles so that’s why we want to use this nanoparticles. Although silver to humans is not bad but if you have too much you could turn blue!

Explain why antibacterial? Nothing sticks to them??

I: Funny - smurf joke

M: so the condition is called Argyria, one of the most promonent examples is Paul Karasan who was drinking almost a litter a day of silver nps!!! while silver is biocompatible, anything in excess is harmful.

I: Yeah and “anything can be toxic given the right dose." So that isn’t the nanoparticles having a negative effect it’s the over comsumption

M: So we have anti-viral surfaces but as we know, the viruses travel through droplets and there’s a chance we might get it by being near an infected person. We can get infected but not show any symptoms then unintentionally transfer it to someone else! How can we test for this?

I: Current method of testing for SARS-CoV2 is by taking swab from your nose or throat and then testing it through RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) to quantify the genetic material from the virus. It’s a very sensitive process which requires an experienced scientist and takes a few hours to run.

M: We’ve heard of RT-PCR often recently, can you explain what the process is?

I: So imagine a strand of zipper that encode a specific genetic information, which for viruses, tells you what the virus is. In virus samples, these are usually in very low quantity so to detect it, we need to produce more of these zippers. So essentially, RT-PCR continuously produce those specific information multiple times so we can detect it.

M: Wow so that’s what is constantly happening in labs around the world nowadays right. Sounds like it’s a very time consuming process though.

I: Yes, so there are things called magnetic nanoparticles, functionalized with carboxyl (ROC=O) groups that are strongly attracted the RNA, thus capturing the RNA and then in the presence of magnet field, can isolate them from the other impurities.rocess This process has been demonstrated by Zhao and colleagues in 2020 to accelerate the process

M: This process is very time consuming right? and the samples collected needs to be processed in a laboratory, which is why it takes a few days for us to get results.

I: Right, as of now, that is the current protocol. But there are promising studies such as one conducted by Seo et al. Who developed graphene based field-effect transistor sensor coated with antibodies specific for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to detect viruses that successfully detected viruses from clinical samples. (Seo et al.,

M: Oh yes, graphene! We talked about it in the last episode! What is that again?

I: Graphene is a conductive honeycomb structure material composed of purely carbon atoms which got the nobel prize in 2010. So, imagine a honeycomb that is a million times smaller and electrons can zoom by really . It's everywhere - You can get it from pencil lead!

We hope you guys can get the general idea of how nanotechnology is helping us to get back to normal!

M: Yes hopefully sooner rather than later.

I: That’s all the nano for today, take care!

M: and stay curious!


Nielsen, K. "Silver. A powerful weapon against microbes." Retrieved October 20, 2020, from

Fenton, G. " ZEN Graphene-Enhanced Materials for Next-Level Performance." accessed November 20, 2020 from

Intro/Outro music:

Music by minwbu from Pixabay

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