Tag Archives: Personal

New coating could improve medical gear by making the coronavirus slide right off

New research at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering has created a textile material that can repel liquids such as blood or saliva and prevent viruses from adhering, to boot.

An illustration of the new coating in action textile’s ability to repel fluids. Credit: University of Pittsburgh

The team hopes that their work can lead the way to improved personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks or gowns to keep both doctors and patients safe.

Keeping the bugs out

“Recently there’s been focus on blood-repellent surfaces, and we were interested in achieving this with mechanical durability,” said Anthony Galante, a Ph.D. student in industrial engineering at Pitt and lead author of the paper. “We want to push the boundary on what is possible with these types of surfaces, and especially given the current pandemic, we knew it’d be important to test against viruses.”

PPE is at a premium throughout the world right now, but our current gear isn’t the best it could be. The textiles used in gowns and other similar material does eventually soak up viruses and bacteria, and spreads them as medical personnel go about their work.

The material created at the LAMP Lab should provide better viral insulation than currently-available textiles, while also allowing for medical equipment to be used for longer because it doesn’t soak up pathogens — which will also help with shortages.

The coating they developed is resistant to ultrasonic washing, scrubbing, and scraping, so it doesn’t lose efficiency when worn or cleaned. Other similar coatings that are available today aren’t resistant in the same way, which limits their lifetime.

“The durability is very important because there are other surface treatments out there, but they’re limited to disposable textiles. You can only use a gown or mask once before disposing of it,” said Paul Leu, co-author and associate professor of industrial engineering, who leads the LAMP Lab.

“Given the PPE shortage, there is a need for coatings that can be applied to reusable medical textiles that can be properly washed and sanitized.”

The team tested their coating through tens of ultrasonic washing cycles, thousands of rotations with a scrubbing pad, and scrapings with a razor blade, and reported that the material remained just as effective after every test.

Then they examined how efficiently it can repel human adenoviruses 4 and 7, which cause acute respiratory disease and conjunctivitis — and it successfully prevented these from adhering to the textile, as well.

“Adenovirus can be inadvertently picked up in hospital waiting rooms and from contaminated surfaces in general. It is rapidly spread in schools and homes and has an enormous impact on quality of life—keeping kids out of school and parents out of work,” said Robert Shanks, the Director of Basic Research at the Charles T. Campbell Microbiology Laboratory, who collaborated on the research.

“This coating on waiting room furniture, for example, could be a major step towards reducing this problem.”

Although the findings so far are encouraging, the team has yet to test their coating against the coronavirus, but they say that this is the next step in their research.

The coating is applied using drop-casting, a method that saturates the material with a solution from a syringe and applies a heat treatment to increase stability. The team is also working on adapting it for use through spraying or dipping to enable its use for mass-production of larger items such as gowns.

The paper “Superhemophobic and Antivirofouling Coating for Mechanically Durable and Wash-Stable Medical Textiles,” has been published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

People will happily donate their personal data for a good cause

Over half the respondents of a new University of Bristol study said they would donate their personal data — as long as it’s for the benefit of science and the general public.

A slide at the Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium’s Personal Cloud Community Gathering in February 2013, San Francisco.
Image credits Phil Wolff / Flickr.

I think we can all agree: having your data tossed and sold around between opaque companies is very uncool. However, a new study found that people are way more open to the idea of giving up or donating their data as long as it’s in the service of science and the community at large. The results suggest that such a practice is perceived as an acceptable use of private data by a large percentage of the general public, with potential implications for research and possibly civic organizations as well.

An intangible wealth of data

“Digital technology opens up a new era in the understanding of human behaviour and lifestyle choices, with people’s daily activities and habits leaving ‘footprints’ in their digital records,” says Dr Anya Skatova, Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow in Digital Innovation and Wellbeing in the Bristol School of Psychological Science, the lead author of the study.

Personal data can mean a lot of things in a lot of different contexts. One of the most comprehensive ones, I feel, is the European Union’s interpretation of the term under its GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). Personal data is defined there as “any information that relates to an identified or identifiable living individual”, including “pieces of information” which “can lead to the identification of a particular person”. Data that has been anonymized or in any way processed “but can be used to re-identify a person remains personal data […] regardless of the technology used for processing that data”. Data processed “in such a way that the individual is not or no longer identifiable” is no longer considered personal data.

All of us generate massive amounts of personal data through our comings and goings in the digital realm. This, very often, happens behind our back and without our consent — or with ‘consent’ extracted from mile-long Terms & Conditions that nobody actually ever reads. Even something as seemingly innocuous as a dating app has stunning amounts of data on its users, often without them realizing.

“Apps such as Tinder are taking advantage of a simple emotional phenomenon; we can’t feel data,” Luke Stark, a digital technology sociologist at Dartmouth University, told Judith Duportail at The Guardian back in 2017. “This is why seeing everything printed strikes you. We are physical creatures. We need materiality.”

So we can all agree that we don’t like our personal data being used without our consent. But what uses of personal data would people be fine with, and why? In order to find out, the team put together a questionnaire that gauged the motivations of 1,300 people for donating their data. It contained three distinct reasons: an opportunity for self-benefit, social duty, and the need to understand the purpose of data donation.

Social duty included motivations such as the desire to help better society or give back to a community. Self-interest tied into the need to gain personal benefits as a result of donating data — such as a boost in reputation, or avoiding feelings of guilt. Purpose of use was tied to the need to understand the consequences of donating data, and of understanding what it would be used following donation.

The strongest motive out of the three seems to be the desire to serve society, the team found. On the other end of the spectrum, the strongest predictor for the decision not to donate personal data was the need to gain direct benefits as a result of data donation. The need to know the consequences of donating personal data was nevertheless an important third factor that people considered when making the decision whether to donate or not, even if the other two carried more weight by themselves.

The study also found that different forms of empathy help define various types of prosocial motivation for individuals and that these differences could matter in the context of data donation. The team recommends future research into what personality differences or contextual factors can explain individual motivations to donate personal data or not.

“Our results demonstrate that these motivations predict people’s intentions to donate personal data over and above generic altruistic motives and relevant personality traits,” Dr. Skatova explains.

“The creation and use of data generated by each and every one of us for industry is here to stay, along with all the good and bad that can entail. In these times where consumer data is mined by companies, data donation can redress this power imbalance by providing a safe and ethical route that allows individuals to explicitly consent to what research organisation they share their data with, and for what purpose.”

The paper “Psychology of personal data donation” has been published in the journal PLOS One.