The current pandemic is revealing the level of commitment needed from multiple sectors to deliver innovative solutions to tackle severe shortages of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and raw materials.
Researchers at the Prakash lab at Stanford University are no stranger to taking up extreme challenges, and they have kept up their reputation by coming up with several solutions during the COVID-19 crisis.
The team is are already known for their frugal science, having developed several low-cost healthcare solutions, including a 50-cent centrifuge, an origami microscope called foldscope and a smartphone-based screening device for oral cancer.
One of their primary solutions that has gained a lot of traction during the ongoing crisis is the Pneumask, a reusable full-face snorkel mask that prevents transmission of pathogens. The mask kit contains an off-the-shelf snorkeling mask, a custom (3D-printed) adapter, and a filter/filter cartridge. A viral filter that is typically used in anesthesia procedures is attached to the ventilator port, which has one inhale and two exhale channels, providing substantial, full face protection.
Already, 2,600 units of Pneumasks have been deployed and the team plans to ship out 50,000 units in the next week.
One reason hospitals run out of personal protective equipment (PPE) is because every time a healthcare worker goes into a patient room even to make small adjustments to their ventilator settings, they need to don new PPE and discard them when coming out. To minimize such scenarios, the team is in the process of developing a universal remote control that can adjust the setting on mechanical ventilators and IV pumps from outside the patient’s room.
To address the issue of ventilator shortages, the team in collaboration with researchers from the University of Utah have designed and developed an open-source prototype for making ventilators from easily available parts, tapping into non-traditional supply chains such as the automobile industry.
Other projects from the lab include detailed guidelines for decontaminating N95 masks, a filtration test protocol for face masks, and a cotton candy inspired machine for making nano-fiber porous mesh material that is used in making the filters of N95 masks.
The open-source nature of the projects attracts others to improve on the designs – the ultimate goal of the team is to deploy the best possible versions of these technologies as quickly as possible, a goal they wish to achieve through rigorous testing and validation.