Indian-American bioengineer at Stanford University develops reusable face mask from snorkel mask

indica News Bureau-

Professor Manu Prakash, an Indian-American bioengineer at Stanford University, has developed a re-usable PPE mask for health professionals with help of his snorkel mask.

After returning from France in March, MacArthur fellow, Prakash, 40, who runs ‘Prakash Lab’at Department of Bioengineering at Stanfors University  developed cough, and felt short of breath. However, he tested negative for COVID-19 but decided to stay quarantined at home, just in case. When he went to get tested at the  Stanford University Medical Center he noticed that doctors used to throw away their PPE kits after each use. This gave him the idea to develop a re-usable face mask with the help of his snorkel mask.

Shortly afterwards, Prakash and a team of 10 students from the university developed the Pneumask, which costs about $40 to make. It combines an off-the-shelf, full-face scuba mask with a medical-grade filter. It works by attaching a filter commonly found in a hospital to the mask. They did a lot off research on the effectiveness of the mask and submitted it to the Food and Drug Administration for approval.

“Nothing about this is normal,” Prakash said, adding that they’ve never before submitted research to the FDA in such a short period. “There’s nothing normal about what’s happening around the world right now. I wish we had more time. I wish we were not here.”

The Prakash Lab have shipped 75 pilot units to various clinicians around the world for clinical trial.

However, they got the much-needed FDA approval to label their product as a face shield or surgical mask — but not a respirator — so they could ship the masks to health-care workers as soon as possible. As per the definition of the FDA, respirators are designed to seal to the face and protect from airborne particles, including viruses, while surgical masks offer less protection and are a barrier to larger substances such as saliva.

The FDA added that it needed more information to decide whether the device can be a reusable substitute to N95 respirators, and Prakash said that any approval would take some time, Washington Post reported.

Prakash and his team are now going to ship 1,500 free masks to clinicians in Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois and New York and are planning to make and send another 7,000 in the next few weeks.

Prakash’s team is also publishing its work in a public Google doc so health-care professionals can be informed about how best to use the Pneumask, as well as sterilize it between uses. The goal is that Pneumask can be used if hospitals run out of masks or other PPE, with no other options for protection. The FDA has said it does not object to health-care professionals improvising PPE when all other alternatives are unavailable.

Roberto Miki, an orthopedic surgeon who runs a private practice in Miami, is one of the doctors helping Prakash in his coalition. Before he knew about the coalition, Miki fashioned his own scuba mask solution and posted the device on YouTube. Now, Miki said, he’s using his own funds to buy and distribute masks using the Pneumask design for medical staff and first-responders in the Miami area.

There is a need for reusable alternatives to N95 masks and other disposable equipment, Miki believes, because the supply chains won’t be able to support the demand for masks as the pandemic continues and more people are hospitalized.

“A lot of light needs to be shed on this project,” he added. “There’s a [coronavirus] peak that’s coming and if this project doesn’t get off the launchpad quick enough, we’re going to miss part of that peak. We’re going to miss saving some people.”

Additionally, Prakash has formed an international coalition of medical experts and clinicians, with backing and technical support from companies such as Boston Scientific and Medtronic. With coordination through the coalition, doctors in Chile and France are working to use full-faced scuba masks as acceptable alternatives for respirators in hospitals.

The journal further reported that the parts in a Pneumask require one custom piece connecting the mask to the filter. Prakash created the piece using medical-grade equipment. He said that anecdotally he knows of people who have made the piece from a 3-D printer, but said that method might not ensure an airtight seal.

No matter how many masks they make, the Pneumasks will remain a limited resource, Prakash said. There are only so many full-faced scuba masks in the world.

The goal is to create 50,000 to deliver, and the group has made about 1,700. Prakash said his plan will rely on hospitals sending back masks when they no longer need the extra support. If it works, the masks will be able to follow the spread of the virus, aiding medical professionals who need help the most.

After the crisis, when the pandemic is under control, Prakash said there will be a “remarkable amount of innovation” born out of the solutions people are piecing together now under pressure.

“What this pandemic has done is truly expose the underbelly of weaknesses that we have in our protection for health-care workers,” he added.

Stanford students are also working on a way to create filters that compare to N95 respirators by using cotton-candy machines, or a similar rotary device, and Styrofoam.

“You have to look at an object with a different eye, and you’ll see a solution in it,” Prakash said.

Earlier his lab had developed Foldscope, a paper microscope that costs $1.75 and is used across the world for scientific education and research.