Record-Breaking $9.4 Million Crypto Giveaway to Fund Air Disinfection Study to Prevent Future Pandemics

In recent years, Milton has become one of the most prominent scientific voices supporting the use of masks to guard against the spread of COVID-19, and his work has been cited by the National Research Council in its letter of April 2020 at the White House warning that COVID-19 could be spread by breathing and speaking. The message, and many of Milton’s findings, contradict long-held beliefs in medicine that harmful viruses are spread primarily through relatively large respiratory droplets that quickly fall to the ground.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the need to control the spread of respiratory infections without shutting down social and economic activities,” Milton said. “We have the technology to prevent the airborne spread of respiratory disease. But if we want to use these technologies to control the next pandemic, we need to invest in them now, before it starts. This generous gift from Balvi will help us lay the groundwork for that to happen.

The Balvi Filantropic Fund prioritizes the rapid deployment of funds to high-value COVID projects that traditional, institutional or commercial funding sources tend to overlook because they are too early or “out of the box”. Buterin’s recent philanthropy has included donations to improve India’s COVID response and to support Ukrainian relief efforts as the country faces a large-scale Russian invasion.

Milton previously installed a special GUV germicidal air disinfection system in his lab to protect people studying influenza, and as of January 2020, people involved in the PHAB lab StopCOVIDstudy. The devices, common in some medical settings, are able to “easily and silently kill half of the germs floating around in indoor air”. every two minutes or less,” Milton wrote earlier this year in a New York Times writing— but major obstacles prevent wider deployment of the systems.

This donation from Balvi will allow the PHAB Lab team to work to overcome these obstacles through five main efforts:

  • A randomized controlled trial conducted with volunteer participants in a hotel in Maryland over several years aims to definitively test whether respiratory viruses are spread by aerosols. It’s part of a large transmission study funded by a $15 million cooperative agreement with the National Institutes of Health. Balvi’s donation will allow the trial to be extended to use GUV as well as filtration to study the mode of transmission. “We know that filters eliminate and that UV kills viruses, but is this virus suspended in the air? The broad scope of my work is to provide definitive evidence, for or against the importance of airborne transmission, that holds up over time and can be relied upon to prevent future pandemics,” Milton said.
  • Research on public attitudes and communications will target acceptance of GUV to purify indoor air, as public perceptions will ultimately determine whether GUV can be successfully implemented at scale, Milton said. Bearing in mind that mitigation measures like masks and vaccines have become political hot spots throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the project will engage SPH health literacy experts and researchers who work in partnership with black barbers and hair salons.
  • Training and certification of technicians and contractors will meet the need for expert installation and maintenance of these systems. The PHAB Lab team will work with a team of internationally renowned GUV safety experts and the International Association of Lighting Management Companies to accelerate efforts to develop a training and certification program.
  • Optimization of GUV system designs aims to identify the best ways to use UV lamps to effectively eliminate germs, even when the germs come from someone sitting nearby. The researchers will test this ability with bacteriophages, viruses that infect and replicate only in bacterial cells and can be safely released in a room occupied by people.
  • A field intervention study, planned to be conducted in collaboration with local restaurants Busboys and Poets, will test the impact of GUV on transmission in real-life settings.

“Preventing future pandemics is a great challenge, and universities have an important role to play,” said UMD President Darryll J. Pines. “Our University of Maryland experts are conducting research and testing technologies that can impact disease transmission and transform how we respond to the next global health threat.”

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