Yale Experts Pool Resources, Skills to Increase Covid-19 Medical Supplies

From computer simulations of new medical technology durability to simplified PPE designs for mass production, a coalition drawing on expertise from across the university is working to help provide healthcare professionals the tools they need to fight COVID-19.

The COVID-19 crisis has put a significant strain on the U.S. healthcare system and the availability of essential personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers. The Coalition for Health Innovation in Medical Emergencies (CHIME) has been rapidly generating, evaluating, and testing ideas in several key areas: face masks, ventilation, and sterilization techniques. 

The coalition, which includes experts in engineering, public health, nursing, medicine, and design, was formed to take advantage of the diverse range of expertise at Yale.

“Innovative output requires diverse input, so we convened a multidisciplinary team that could look at problems from fresh perspectives,” said Joe Zinter, assistant director of the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design (CEID), who is helping to coordinate CHIME’s efforts. 

Because of the supply shortage, hospitals around the country are using disposable masks for several days. There are many open source examples of masks that can be 3D printed or made from household materials. While CHIME is evaluating and testing these designs in partnerships with the NeuroTechnology Core and the School of Architecture, the coalition is also exploring ways to sterilize existing masks, as opposed to fabricating new ones. While mask sterilization methods do exist, they typically require expensive equipment not readily available in most hospitals. The group is evaluating several technologies and methods that may be just as effective, but significantly less expensive.

“Effectively sterilizing masks could allow them to be used dozens of times, potentially extending their life span from one day to one month,” Zinter said.

Dr. David Mulligan, professor of surgery, said having people from so many different backgrounds to brainstorm ideas has been a tremendous benefit.  

“We’re looking at how we can get more PPE, and the opportunities we have to sterilize equipment so that it can be reused,” Mulligan said. “We’ve had a lot of ideas, just thinking outside the box.”

CHIME is also addressing the potential shortage of ventilators and has developed a device that could allow a single ventilator to serve multiple patients. At the School of Architecture, several prototypes for 3D-printed ventilator multiplexers have been tested. The device has already gone through several design iterations, and a 3D printed version is being tested under guidance from Yale experts. Should this design be deemed safe and effective, it is possible that it could be shared widely, and 3D printed to address local demand. 

Because of the urgency of the situation, Anjelica Gonzalez, associate professor of biomedical engineering, said the group is aiming for a quick turnaround on their work.

“We’re all really learning on the fly and taking the expertise we have from our fields in thinking about these new devices,” said Gonzalez, who in recent years developed a low-cost infant respirator known as PremieBreathe. “I’d never thought about face masks before, but I do biomaterials and new materials development, so what I can bring is an understanding of what material properties the masks need in regard to their reaction to bacterial viruses.”

In addition to expertise, the coalition is also leveraging Yale’s significant fabrication resources, such as those at the Wright Laboratory, the School of Architecture, the Neurotechnology Core at Yale’s medical campus, and the CEID. Collectively, these organizations have dozens of 3D printers, laser cutters, and other sophisticated fabrication equipment. Collaborations with several industry partners are also underway. 

CHIME is conducting research and communicating with local healthcare experts to explore novel pathways and recommendations for navigating the COVID-19 crisis.

If you can make a local donation of PPE, please contact DonationsPPE@ynhh.org. Cash donations to YNHH are accepted here