MIT Researchers Design New Face Mask
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, have reportedly designed a new face mask that they believe could stop viral particles as effectively as N95 masks.
The design is in response to the still-urgent need for N95 masks for healthcare workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The new mask prototype is made of durable silicone rubber that can be manufactured using injection molding, which is a widely used technique.
“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,” says Giovanni Traverso, an MIT assistant professor of mechanical engineering and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“We also wanted to maximize the reusability of the system, and we wanted systems that could be sterilized in many different ways.”
N95 masks are made from polypropylene fibers that, while designed to specially filer out tiny particles, are ideally not supposed to be reused. Healthcare workers, for instance, should switch to a new mask each time they see a different patient, but the shortages of these masks force workers to wear them longer than recommended.
MIT noted that while many hospitals have begun sterilizing N95 masks with hydrogen peroxide vapor—which can be used up to 20 times on a single mask—this process requires specialized equipment that is not available everywhere and, even with this process, one mask can be worn for only a single day.
The silicone masks are reportedly based on the shape of the 3M 1860 style of N95 masks and have space for one or two N95 filters. The filters are designed to be replaced after every use while the rest of the mask can be sterilized and reused.
A standard fit test that’s required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was performed on recruitment of about 20 healthcare workers, which all passed.
A paper describing the new masks appears in the British Medical Journal Open. The lead authors of the study are James Byrne, a radiation oncologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and research affiliate at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; Adam Wentworth, a research engineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a research affiliate at the Koch Institute; Peter Chai, an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and Hen-Wei Huang, a research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a postdoc at the Koch Institute.
The team is currently working on a second version of the masks and is also working to establish a company to support production and seek approval from the FDA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
In early May, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued further interim enforcement guidance on the reusing of disposable N95 filtering face piece respirators (FFRs).
The guidance cites NIOSH, which has identified available research that suggests the following methods for decontaminating FFRs:
OSHA also listed methods that are not considered acceptable at this time:
“Employers should investigate the effectiveness of any particular decontamination method used for the specific filtering facepiece respirator model to be decontaminated,” OSHA noted.
“Employers should be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of any decontamination method used against the likely contaminant(s) (i.e., pathogens) of concern, and that the decontamination method used does not produce additional safety hazards.”
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