Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, MIT engineers have been working hard to create tools and gadgets that combat the global health crisis. Their latest innovation might be the most important one yet.
They created a reusable face covering that claims to be as effective as a typical N95 protective mask. The team behind it is made up of engineers and researchers from both MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Solving a Pain Point
One of the biggest issues with the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers is that N95 masks aren’t designed to be reused. In a non-pandemic scenario, they are disposed of frequently. Today, doctors and nurses are being forced to reuse masks for days or even weeks. Unfortunately, according to the CDC, “there is no way of determining the maximum possible number of safe reuses for an N95 respirator.”
This puts health professionals in a risky situation as they don’t know if their mask is still effective or not.
MIT engineers set out to solve this problem by creating a mask that is both effective and reusable. The result? A reusable silicone rubber mask that uses disposable N95 disc filters to protect workers from the coronavirus.
The design appeared in a paper published earlier this month in the British Medical Journal Open.
It requires far less disposable material than traditional N95 masks, with only the filters needing to be replaced. The rest of the mask can be safely sanitized, either in an autoclave or with a wipe. This means that it can be used many times and could even be shared by workers on different shifts after being sterilized.
MIT assistant professor Giovanni Traverso weighed in on the mask’s design, saying, “One of the key things we recognized early on was that in order to help meet the demand, we needed to really restrict ourselves to methods that could scale.”
He added, “We also wanted to maximize the reusability of the system, and we wanted systems that could be sterilized in many different ways.”
As of now, the MIT team is working to design a second version of the mask. They are utilizing feedback from healthcare workers and aim to make the new design more comfortable. The team plans to carry out additional lab tests to measure their mask’s ability to filter out airborne virus particles.
Meanwhile, the researchers are forming a company. Doing so will support scaled-up production of the mask while they pursue FDA approval.
Should tests go as expected, the MIT-designed mask could play a vital role in humanity’s prolonged fight against COVID-19. It will likely take some time not only to obtain FDA approval but also to manufacture enough masks to make a noticeable impact.
Nonetheless, the new mask could end up being a valuable tool for healthcare workers and even everyday people. With traditional means of making and acquiring N95s stretched to maximum capacity, every alternative solution helps.