May 10, 2020
New Type Of Ultraviolet Lamps Could Be A Tool In The Fight Against The Coronavirus

A new type of ultraviolet lamp could possibly turn out to be a game-changer in the fight against the novel coronavirus, MSN reports. A modification to the same types of lamps that have been used for years could stem the spread of the virus without putting humans at risk.

Ultraviolet-C lamps, or UVC lamps, have been in use for years and can be seen in places where sanitation is a top priority. You may have seen one behind the meat counter at a grocery store, for example, or in a hospital emergency room or even a school. The light kills viruses, bacteria and molds — pathogens that should be kept at bay at all costs.

The problem with those lamps is that the type of radiation that they release, though fatal to unwanted life forms, can cause eye and skin irritation to humans and, cumulatively over the course of several years, could contribute to skin cancer.

For this reason, the lamps are generally used when humans aren't around. That's why, for example, the New York City subway system has taken a page from China's book and installed the lamps on its subway trains, intending to only use them when passengers aren't on board.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 07: Police escort individuals sleeping on trains out of the cars as the New York City subway system, the largest public transportation system in the nation, is closed for nightly cleaning due to the continued spread of the coronavirus on May 07, 2020 in New York City. Following reports of homeless New Yorkers sleeping on the trains and the deaths of numerous subway employees, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has decided to close New York's subway system from 1am to 5am every evening for a deep cleaning. New York continues to be the national center of the COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Getty Images | Spencer Platt

The health risk limits the lamps' ability to be used as virus-fighting weapons, against coronavirus or otherwise, because the virus spreads most rapidly and efficiently when crowds of people are in the same place, such as on a subway train.

David Brenner, the director of Columbia University's Center for Radiological Research, wanted to come up with a way that UVC lamps could be used when people are present, realizing that the technology, if his team could come up with it, could be a game-changer when it comes to the coronavirus.

"We were thinking, how can we apply what we are doing to the current situation," Brenner said.

His team may have found it. Specifically, they've created a lamp that emits UV light at a wavelength of 222 nanometers -- a Goldilocks Zone of sorts that kills pathogens but doesn't penetrate human skin or eye tissue, effectively making the lamps safe for use around crowds of humans.

For a few weeks now, Brenner's team has been blasting mice with radiation levels 20 times what would be used on humans. The rodents, Brenner says, are happy, healthy, and "very cute."

Brenner notes that his research is in its preliminary stages and must continue for several more weeks before it can even be submitted for peer review. But once the experiments are complete and validated, rolling out the technology for consumer use could introduce another tool in the fight against the coronavirus.

"We really need something in situations like offices, restaurants, airplanes, hospitals," Brenner said.