03 March 2020

It may be possible to capture coronavirus from the air with the aid of an ionisation unit. Lennart Svensson, professor of molecular virology at Linköping University, has his eye set on testing the method on the new coronavirus that is currently spreading major anxiety around the world.

Lennart Svensson, Professor, virology.
Ulrik Svedin
“We plan to attempt to collect coronavirus from air in the high-security laboratory at Karolinska Institutet (KI) with Rolf Nybom. We will use a common and “less nasty” form of the coronavirus there. We have shown that the method works with other viruses such as the influenza virus, norovirus (winter vomiting disease), and rotavirus. We can also prevent the spread of infection. But we must test the method for coronavirus: we can’t just assume that it will work for all viruses”, says Lennart Svensson.
En joniseringsapparat som kan ladda partiklar i luften och på så vis fånga in bakterier och virus. Lennart Svensson är forskningsledare vid LiU. The virus trap - an ionisator device. Photo credit Lennart Svensson The technical solution is an ionisation unit that gives the particles in the air a negative charge. These are then attracted to a positive plate, where they are collected. In one experiment, the scientists sprayed 100 million copies of a non-hazardous form of rotavirus into a clean room with initially particle-free air. One hour later, 40 million of them had been collected.

“The equipment collects viruses. The method is in the process of being commercialised, and we believe that it can be used in public spaces such as hospitals, waiting rooms, airports and other places where many people gather. It may be particularly useful during periods of an active outbreak.”
Together with other researchers in Sweden, we have recently submitted a joint application for research funding to the EU. The EU published a call for applications with a very short deadline, three weeks. It has allocated SEK 100 million for research projects around the new coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease.
Marie Hagbom, forskningsingenjör och expert pÃ¥ stamceller, Lennart Svensson, professor i molekylär virologi vid Linköpings universitet. Foto - Ulrik Svedin - LiU Photo credit Ulrik Svedin Lennart Svensson’s research group will attempt to infect small intestines produced from stem cells with the now-circulating coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. They will carry this out in the BSL3 laboratory in Linköping. The reason is that several of the people infected with the coronavirus develop diarrhoea, and the virus is found in the stools from these patients. It is not known, however, whether the virus can grow in the intestines. If this is the case, virus secreted in stools may contribute to the spread of infection.
So you want coronavirus to come to Linköping?
“Yes, there’s no middle way. We must have the virus to learn more about it. We plan to work with the human SARS-CoV-2 virus in the high-security laboratory (BSL3) we have here at LiU. The Public Health Agency of Sweden is prepared to share the virus for the purposes of research.”
Prover med stamceller, Lennart Svensson, professor i molekylär virologi vid Linköpings universitet. Foto - Ulrik Svedin - LiU Cell samples from small intestine. Photo credit Ulrik Svedin Another project concerns infection genetics.
“Here, we are trying to find out why some people become sick and not others. In particular, we study the genetic component of susceptibility to virus infections. We all know someone who seems to have a perpetual cold. And this can’t be because they always manage to choose the wrong seat on the bus every morning”, he says with a smile.
Lennart Svensson has been committed to global health for many years, and has established contacts in Brazil and Nicaragua, among other places. Diagnosis is crucial to preventing the spread of infection. At the beginning of March 2020, he was in Nicaragua to set up diagnostic procedures for the coronavirus.
“We believe that we can be first to be able to diagnose patients with coronavirus in Central America. It would be naïve to believe that the virus is not present in certain parts of the world simply because no cases have been reported. Actually, this is because it has not been possible to diagnose it. We took chemical reagents with us, established the diagnostic procedures, and trained the personnel.”

Lennart Svensson, professor i molekylär virologi vid Linköpings universitet. Foto - Ulrik Svedin - LiU Lennart Svensson, Professor. Photo credit Ulrik Svedin Why are you doing this?

“I come from such a research tradition at KI and I have an interest in global health. Part of this is to help when disease hits other countries, and thus contribute to better health. For the past 30 years we have been collaborating with a research group in Nicaragua, and we hold courses and workshops every year. We also exchange doctoral students and post docs.”
Can a vaccine against the new coronavirus be developed?
“A vaccine will be developed, but it may take several years. Approximately 80% of the development period is used for testing the vaccine to ensure its quality and avoid undesired effects. And it’s possible that the virus can die out of itself during this period.” 


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