Two and a half days later, Dr Zahner and Dr Chacin were testing out their prototype at the university’s medical fabrication lab in Galveston: a simple air pump that uses ordinary blood pressure cuffs, car valves sold by auto parts stores and items found in most hospital supply closets. They are awaiting approval from the university’s medical review board before trying it out on patients. “We hope doctors in the US never have to use them, but in an emergency they should do the trick,” Dr Chacin said.
Spurred to action by a shortage of lifesaving medical supplies and mechanical breathing machines, engineers, software designers, factory owners and self-taught sewers around the world have been racing to devise products they hope can help keep critically ill coronavirus patients alive and health care workers safe from infection.
The vast majority of products have not received the necessary blessing from the FDA, but in the face of the pandemic the agency said it was willing to be flexible in evaluating newly created devices and gear. It took just two weeks to approve a 3-D-printed plastic valve that allows two patients rather than one to be sustained on a single ventilator.
The valve, developed by two universities in South Carolina, is already being used at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
The swift spread of the new coronavirus is rallying countless scientists and tinkerers to address the grave shortage of medical equipment. A national hive mind has come to life on an open source Facebook group where hundreds of strangers trade tips on making respirator masks with baby wipes and paper towels, and with Project N95, an online vetted clearing-house for hospitals that need protective gear and manufacturers with product to sell.
A Stanford University lab is clinically testing a full-face respirator that uses a snorkelling mask. A high-end swimming goggle company is producing eye wear that can be customised to fit a nurse’s face.
Across the country, virtual sewing circles have cropped up to make surgical masks. Connie Steed, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, said she welcomed the outpouring of help, especially the homemade surgical masks and plastic face shields that have fewer technical requirements. In a survey, the organisation released Friday, nearly half of the 1,400 infection prevention specialists who responded said they were nearly out of respirator masks and face shields, and a third said they were running low on surgical masks.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are tackling several types of medical equipment: respirators made out of vacuum bags, 3-D-printed face shields and ventilators that can be manufactured quickly. Penn plans to make 5,000 face shields in the coming days using 3-D-printed parts provided by hobbyists and local maker enthusiasts.
Mohit Prajapati, the director of R&D, strategy and operations at Penn Medicine’s Center for Healthcare Innovation, has been overseeing the effort to use strategic folding techniques — like “origami,” he said — to create respirators out of sterilisation wrap, a material that is used in N95 masks but which hospitals use to wrap sterilized medical equipment. Penn has also experimented with vacuum bags and other materials that provide some level of particle filtration.
— Jacobs covers health and science, and Abrams covers business for NYT© 2020
The New York Times