Duke, Rice University are innovating production of protective masks, ventilators

The COVID-19 pandemic is leading to innovative projects and creative thinking to address the shortages of PPE and respiratory machines using 3D printing.
By Mike Miliard
11:01 AM

Rice University's open source ApolloBVM prototype could help lower-acuity COVID-19 patients who are awaiting availability of a standard hospital ventilator.

The once seemingly sci-fi promise of 3D printing has been a reality for some time now, and applications of the technology are leading to big advancements – and filling critical needs – during the coronavirus crisis.

At Duke University, researchers are leveraging its 3D-printing capabilities to make reusable medical face-shields for front-line providers. Duke is partnering with the nearby UNC Chapel Hill to print the face shields, which will be distributed at both Duke and UNC Health Systems.

A special team comprising engineers and medical and technology professionals worked in tandem with healthcare workers to assess priorities for personal protective equipment. Nurses, graduate nursing students and medical professionals first tested the 3D-printed face-shields in a simulation lab to ensure they meet safety standards.

The team ran tests on some 100 different designs using more than five dozen printers in Duke's 3D lab, and eventually settled on a prototype of a 3D-printed headband that attaches to a laser-cut polycarbonate lens.

The first batch of these shields, which can be sanitized for reuse, was scheduled to be distributed to healthcare this past Friday. The plan is to turn the production of the final design over to manufacturing facilities, said Duke officials, enabling the printing of thousands of shields each day.

“In the past couple of years we have assembled a very creative and capable team of engineers with extensive industry experience in medical device design, who have already been working closely with Duke clinicians,” said Ken Gall, associate dean for entrepreneurship at Duke Engineering and associate director of Duke MEDx, a collaborative venture of the Duke School of Medicine and the Pratt School of Engineering.

"Everyone has pivoted quickly to work with our Duke Health colleagues on COVID-19 solutions and support," he said, "as they identify needs, we are jumping on them to help."

Open-source ventilator costs $300 to build

Meanwhile, researchers at Rice University are showcasing an innovative emergency ventilator design that could help hospitals in short supply of these critical machines.

Rice has made the schematics for the open-source ApolloBVM, an automated bag-valve-mask device first developed by students this past year as a senior design project, and available online.

ApolloBVM costs less than $300 in off-the-shelf components and can squeeze a common bag valve mask for hours on end, said Rice researchers, and could help lower-acuity COVID-19 patients who are awaiting availability of a standard hospital ventilator.

Prototypes are being built at Rice's Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen using 3D printers and laser cutters.

In lab tests with an artificial lung, ApolloBVM was able to deliver nonstop air for 24 hours, until the device was turned off. The next steps are first testing with human patients and then manufacturing. Tests with a Texas Medical Center partner are imminent, according to the team.

While the prototype machine will "make a difference in hospitals that run out of ventilators,” said Dr. Rohith Malya, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and associate of the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health, he emphasized that it is for use "only when there is no ventilator available."

He added: "We don’t intend for this to be the primary device. We are still working towards the exact clinical use scenario as the situation demands it, nationally and globally."

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com

Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media