There have many unique attempts to provide safety, protection and preventative measures against the COVID-19 virus aside from simple masks and purifiers. A new addition to the list has come out of Italy as a tech firm has partnered up with a scientific research center – backed by the United Nations – to determine if lasers can be deployed to destroy coronavirus particles in the air in indoor settings.
The joint effort between the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) of Trieste, a city in the north of Italy, and the nearby Eltech K-Laser company, was launched last year as COVID-19 was battering the country.
They created a device that forces air through a sterilization chamber that contains a laser beam filter that pulverizes viruses and bacteria.
"I thought lasers were more for a shaman rather than a doctor, but I have had to change my mind. The device proved able to kill the viruses in less than 50 milliseconds," said Serena Zacchigna, group leader for Cardiovascular Biology at the ICGEB.
Healthy indoor environments with a substantially reduced pathogen count are deemed essential for public health in the post-COVID-19 era/ The respiratory infection has caused more than 4 million deaths worldwide in barely 18 months.
A rendering of an air purifier prototype developed by Italian tech company Eltech K-laser is seen in this image obtained on June 30, 2021. (Eltech K-Laser via Reuters)
Zacchigna hooked up with Italian engineer Francesco Zanata, the founder of Eltech K-Laser, a firm specializing in medical lasers whose products are used by sports stars to treat muscle inflammation and fractures.
Some experts have warned against the possible pitfalls of using light-based technologies to attack the virus that causes COVID-19.
A study published by the Journal of Photochemistry & Photobiology in November 2020 highlighted concerns ranging from potential cancer risks to the cost of expensive light sources.
But Zacchigna and Zanata dismissed any health issues, saying the laser never comes into contact with human skin.
"Our device uses nature against nature. It is 100% safe for people and almost fully recyclable," Zanata told Reuters.
The technology, however, does not eliminate viruses and bacteria when they drop from the air onto surfaces or the floor. Nor can it prevent direct contagion when someone who is infected sneezes or talks loudly in the proximity of someone else.
Eltech K-Laser has received a patent from Italian authorities and is seeking to extend this globally.
The portable version of the invention is some 1.8 meters (6 feet) high and weighs about 25 kilograms (55 pounds). The company said the technology can also be placed within air-conditioning units.
In the meantime, the first potential customers are lining up, including Germany's EcoCare, a service provider of testing and vaccination solutions.
"The company aims to license the technology for the German and UAE markets," an EcoCare spokesperson said in an email to Reuters.