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Ultrasound vibrations can damage COVID-19 virus

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | March 23, 2021
Vibrations produced from ultrasound frequencies may be able to damage the physical structure of the COVID-19 virus and the viral RNA it contains
Vibrations generated from ultrasound may damage the physical structure of the COVID-19 virus.

Researchers in MIT’s department of mechanical engineering found that vibrations between 25 and 100 megahertz caused the virus’ spike-like proteins, which spread viral RNA by latching on to healthy cells, to collapse and rupture within a fraction of a millisecond.

"We've proved that under ultrasound excitation the coronavirus shell and spikes will vibrate, and the amplitude of that vibration will be very large, producing strains that could break certain parts of the virus, doing visible damage to the outer shell and possibly invisible damage to the RNA inside," said Tomasz Wierzbicki, professor of applied mechanics at MIT, in a statement.

Wierzbicki and his colleagues observed this effect through computer simulations of the virus in air and water. The virus fractured faster at lower frequencies of 25 MHz and 50 MHz, both in simulations of air and of water.

The simulations were based on limited information about its shell and spikes. "We don't know the material properties of the spikes because they are so tiny — about 10 nanometers high," said Wierzbicki. "Even more unknown is what's inside the virus, which is not empty but filled with RNA, which itself is surrounded by a protein capsid shell. So this modeling requires a lot of assumptions."

While preliminary, the results point to ultrasound’s potential as a treatment for COVID-19, including the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus. More research, according to Wierzbicki, is required to determine how to administer the modality and how effective its vibrations would be on the virus in the human body. "We feel confident that this elastic model is a good starting point. The question is, what are the stresses and strains that will cause the virus to rupture?"

The findings were published in the Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids.

MIT did not respond for comment.

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