ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Medical personnel may soon benefit from an innovative personal isolation tent developed by two friends -- who happen to be engineers. The innovative idea resulted from a late night text exchange regarding the challenges of containing the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Cameron Good, an Army researcher, and a close friend, Dr. David Turer, an electrical engineer and physician working at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, toyed with ideas of how to make a single person isolation system that scavenged the air of COVID-19 viral particles using a HEPA filter for warfighter isolation in tight quarters. “Dave was working on a related concept for use during intubations and procedures,” Good said. “This conversation lead us to combine forces, and within a few days we had a team of people working on it.”
There is evidence that the COVID-19 virus is transmitted by bioaerosols, in addition to droplets, which has created a need for negative pressure isolation solutions that are portable, cost-effective, and scalable, Good said.
Good, who works at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, said they went from a PowerPoint design to a prototype to medical simulation testing in less than a week.
The Individual Biocontainment Unit, or IBU, isolates and contains COVID-19 patients at the bedside and is designed to operate like a Class I Biological Safety Cabinet, which is an enclosure to protect researchers in a laboratory environment. Functionally, the unit is placed around and above the patient’s head and is connected to a vacuum system, which extracts air from inside the IBU and cleans it through a HEPA filter. A clear plastic drape in front provides health care workers a protective layer when accessing a patient.
“It progressed rapidly when very basic tests showed strong efficacy,” Good said. “We brought on Dr. Heng Ban, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh with experience designing industrial ventilation systems, and Ben Schilling, a graduate student in bioengineering with computer-aided design and 3-D printing capabilities, and we were in business.”
The simplistic design is scalable and uses readily available components that are not in high demand for ventilator construction or usage, avoiding further strain on an already constricted medical supply chain.
“In less than a week we built one from scratch using parts from a hardware store --battlefield engineering at its best,” Good said. “On Wednesday, April 8, we had the performance independently tested by a third party and they were shocked by how well it worked...over 99.9% effective at cleaning the air of viral-sized particulates.”
During testing at the Winter Institute for Simulation, Education, and Research, Dr. Jason Chang, an emergency medicine physician with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, used the system to perform simulated intubations and found it was extremely easy to work with.
Last month, CCDC Commanding General Maj. Gen. John A. George asked everyone in the command for feedback on what they could do to contribute to the prevention, detection, or stoppage of the COVID-19 virus.
“I reached out to you and you responded big time,” George wrote in an email to the workforce. “These great ideas range across the spectrum to include detect, mitigate and prevent techniques to how we as a command can potentially utilize our facilities and equipment to help the community.”
Good, who is working this entire project from home during this crisis, said further refinements are underway to limit exposure risk for long-term patient isolation in medical facilities, field hospitals, and aboard Navy ships.
“We have medical colleagues across the U.S. who will be making these devices and putting them to use in emergency rooms and intensive care units soon,” Good said. “Our next step is to refine the units and design a purpose-built system with better optimized components.”
Good, Turer, and the development team submitted a manuscript for publication and are writing a how-to guide for distribution.
CCDC Army Research Laboratory is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army’s corporate research laboratory, ARL discovers, innovates and transitions science and technology to ensure dominant strategic land power. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation’s wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.