Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have designed a new respirator, conceived as an improvement on standard N95 masks. The transparent respirator contains sensors that allow users to know if the mask is fitting snugly and alerts them when the filters need to be replaced. The mask, called the transparent, elastomeric, adaptable, long-lasting (TEAL) respirator, can be sterilized repeatedly, helping to reduce waste and avoid respirator shortages.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for respirators and masks has been urgent. Our team has worked to develop a respirator platform that not only fits comfortably and snugly but can also be sterilized and re-sterilized,” said Giovanni Traverso, a researcher involved in the study. “In this study, we looked at up to 100 re-sterilization cycles and found that the TEAL respirator we’ve designed can withstand that.”
So far, the researchers have tested a variety of sterilization procedures with the respirator, including bleaching, UV sterilization, autoclaving, microwaving, and exposure to isopropyl alcohol. The mask maintained its elasticity and effectiveness with each sterilization procedure, suggesting that it is suitable for use in a wide variety of healthcare settings.
The device incorporates sensors to help users wear it correctly and ensure that it is functioning as intended. These include a thermochromic coating that changes color when it contacts the skin, helping users to ensure that it is providing a snug fit against the face. Other sensors can detect when the filters are saturated, and a variety of other parameters including exhalation/inhalation pressures, respiratory rate, and exhalation temperature can be measured.
The transparent mask may also help with communication, which can be difficult with conventional masks. “One of the big benefits of the TEAL respirator is that it enables visualization of the lips,” said James Byrne, another researcher involved in the study. “This can be immensely helpful in communication and expression, especially during this time when communication through N95 respirators and surgical masks makes it challenging to understand one another.”
In a trial of the respirator with a group of volunteers, the majority preferred the respirator compared with conventional respirators, and were able to wear the respirator correctly and easily change the filters. “We were excited to receive the feedback from the trial participants that they would love to continue using and testing the respirator, given its comfort, transparency and ease of use,” said Byrne.
Study in ACS Pharmacology and Translational Science: Prospective Evaluation of the Transparent, Elastomeric, Adaptable, Long-Lasting (TEAL) Respirator