Czech firm develops self-disinfecting masks that use light to eliminate bacteria and viruses
If leading experts inquire about something, it may be an innovation that can change our lives. Such is the story of the biotechnology spin-off LAM-X, which won third place in the Hack the Crisis Czech Republic hackathon, which was organised by CzechInvest and the Ministry of Industry and Trade, and thus received CZK 1 million for its further development. The goal is contained in its name: Light Activated Materials. In short, the company is developing antimicrobial materials that are activated by light.
Imagine a wound on the body that may have been caused by an injury or a varicose ulcer. Everyone knows that bacteria and viruses lurk in open wounds and are very dangerous for the patient. Treating such a wound is difficult because, for example, a number of different bacteria no longer respond to antibiotics. If, however, the wound is covered with a LAM-X nanomembrane, it suffices to briefly illuminate it and all microorganisms in close proximity to the wound are eliminated. There is no risk of infection and the wound also heals faster. This procedure would simplify the work of medical professionals who treat complicated wounds. For less serious injuries, the patient could self-administer this technology, for example in the form of a bandage. The effectiveness of LAM-X technology has already been confirmed in a clinical study involving 160 patients. It is truly a globally unique material that is not produced anywhere else.
“We want to develop a high-quality material that fulfils all requirements for protection of wearers and those around them. Our ultimate goal is to develop a nanoproduct that will provide users with repeated protection while wearing it.”
“We believe that, for example, such an active mask or respirator can be very helpful in the current fight against the coronavirus.”
– Barbora Šumová, the chief operating officer at LAM-X
A unique Czech product in the fight against viruses
LAM-X was established by the company Charles University Innovations Prague, a subsidiary of Charles University that supports the commercialisation of academic projects that originate at the university, and i&i Prague, the biotechnology incubator of the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, which is focused on the commercialisation of innovative projects implemented in Central Europe. Both institutions saw strong potential in self-cleaning nanomaterials at the beginning of 2020. Then the pandemic impacted the work of the scientists at LAM-X. Due to the fact that a nanomembrane is able to eliminate not only bacteria, but also viruses, such as that which causes COVID-19, the scientists began testing its usefulness in face masks and respirators.
Today, you can buy as many nanofibre products as you want. So, what makes LAM-X unique? Most of the available nanoproducts that you purchase today on the internet, for example, have only a passive protective function. This means that they only trap bacteria and viruses in the nanomembrane. However, pathogens survive in the membrane for a certain period of time and may even further multiply.
LAM-X is developing active nanomembranes that not only capture pathogens, but also very quickly eliminate them. This requires only a source of visible light and active substances, which are part of the nanomembrane. “At this time, we have confirmed the effectiveness of our nanomembrane in both laboratory and clinical conditions. We are now in the phase of transferring our technology to semi-production conditions. We don’t want to rush this part of development. We want to develop a high-quality material that fulfils all requirements for protection of wearers and those around them. Our ultimate goal is to develop a nanoproduct will provide users with repeated protection while wearing it. We believe that, for example, such an active mask or respirator can be very helpful in the current fight against the coronavirus,” says Barbora Šumová, the chief operating officer at LAM-X.
Partnership against the crisis
One of the practical results of the Hack the Crisis hackathon is the establishment of partnerships with significant institutions. Barbora Šumová appreciates the fact that, among other things, the company’s win in Hack the Crisis helped LAM-X to connect with the Technical University of Liberec, which has extensive experience in the field of materials engineering and with which the company is now collaborating on development. “Thanks to this collaboration, we have the possibility to study and optimise the properties of prototypes created in conditions that closely resemble the standard production process. This phase is extremely important for us. The closer we get to ordinary production conditions, the greater the value our technology, and thus the whole company, will gain,” says Šumová. LAM-X invested the financial prize in contract research, in which the Charles University Faculty of Science is also involved alongside the aforementioned Technical University of Liberec. Cooperation with CzechInvest is also ongoing. “CzechInvest is continuing to assist us, for example with seeking out suitable laboratories, and has also put us in contact with a significant Czech manufacturer of nano-masks,” Šumová explains.
LAM-X’s goal is not to start mass production, as it primarily wants to be an innovative company with significant know-how in the area of research and development of active nanotextiles. Development of masks is not the sole focus at LAM-X, as Barbora Šumová confirms that development of antimicrobial wound dressings is still the company’s priority: “We are currently preparing a proposal of an international clinical study for a newly developed material that would serve as a dressing for wounds that are difficult to heal, but we also see a potential use for it in treating acne, for example.” This material can also significantly help medical workers in a number of developing and poor countries, where it is very difficult to ensure a sufficiently clean environment for patients. The possibility of reusing products with the LAM-X membrane can also significantly contribute to reducing the amount of infectious waste.
As previously mentioned, LAM-X’s goal is to be an innovative company, but in order to bring its technology as close to the market as possible, it needs to expand its team and introduce semi-production facilities. Future growth is also the reason that it is currently actively seeking another investor. The company’s background will make it possible to offer the new technology to strategic partners, such as manufacturers of medical materials, disinfectants and nonwoven textiles and filters. Where bandages are concerned, medical facilities are potential customers. Thanks to such a partnership, not only unique nano-masks, but also bandages that actively protect patients could soon appear on the market.
About the Hack the Crisis hackathon
Hack the Crisis Czech Republic is a two-month virtual hackathon that was launched in spring 2020 during the first wave of the global coronavirus pandemic. Its purpose was to coordinate the needs of the state with the energy and volunteering found in the IT community and the business environment, thus supporting the implementation of relevant projects that can provide assistance in the crisis situation or mitigate its impacts. The hackathon was organised by CzechInvest and the Ministry of Industry and Trade. A total of 206 projects were entered in the hackathon in the course of its duration. Over fifty partners from the public and private sectors also took part in the event. Free mentoring was provided by more than 130 experts in various fields.