Ultrasound vibrations can quickly damage coronavirus: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on March 16, 2021

Researchers at MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering have carried out a study that suggests the coronavirus can be inhibited by ultrasound vibrations within the frequencies used in medical diagnostic imaging.

For the examination, the team modelled the virus’s mechanical response to vibrations across a range of ultrasound frequencies via computer simulations.

Their findings revealed that vibrations between 25 and 100 megahertz ruptured the virus’s shell and spikes and the virus collapsed within a fraction of a millisecond. The effect was seen in states of matter, including air and water.

The researchers, however, said the findings are in their initial stage and based on limited data collected on the virus’ physical properties.

Nevertheless, the researchers stated their findings are the first hint at a possible ultrasound-based treatment for coronavirus, including the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“We’ve proven 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,” says Tomasz Wierzbicki, professor of applied mechanics at MIT.

“The hope is that our paper will initiate a discussion across various disciplines,” he added.

Study design

For the experiment, the researchers introduced acoustic vibrations into the simulations. They then observed how the vibrations rippled through the virus’s structure across a range of ultrasound frequencies.

The team started with vibrations of 100 megahertz or 100 million cycles per second. This was determined in accordance with the estimation that the shell of the virus has a natural vibrating frequency within this range.

When they exposed the virus to 100 MHz ultrasound excitations, the virus’s natural vibrations were initially undetectable. But within a fraction of a millisecond the external vibrations, resonating with the frequency of the virus’ natural oscillations, caused the shell and spikes to buckle inward.

As the researchers increased the amplitude, or intensity, of the vibrations, the shell could fracture. At lower frequencies of 25 MHz and 50 MHz, the virus fractured even faster, both in simulated environments of air and of water that is similar in density to fluids in the body.

“These frequencies and intensities are within the range that is safely used for medical imaging,” says Wierzbicki.

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

Published on March 16, 2021

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