Engineers design to make n95 masks reusable

The TEAL respirator

One reusable alternative to N95 respirators comes from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where investigators worked to develop a reusable and better design for the respirator. This alternative could solve some of the biggest problems to come from the pandemic: shortages of medical supplies and PPE (personal protective equipment).

This new respirator has sensors incorporated into them, informing the wearer if the mask has been put on properly and when the filter is already saturated, among other features. The result is a respirator they’ve named the TEAL respirator, which stands for “transparent, elastomeric, adaptable, long-lasting respirator”. The results from their first study were published in the ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science journal, and they showed that a fit testing performed in 40 people had a 100% success rate, with feedback indicating high comfort and breathability.

Giovanni Trasverso, one of the authors and an assistant professor at MIT in the Department of Mechanical Engineering as well as a biomedical engineer and gastroenterologist at the Division of Gastroenterology of Brigham, said they were inspired to develop this comfortable and sterilizable respirator by the urgent need for N95 masks during the COVID-10 pandemic.

To make sure the model could be sterilized over and over again, they put the respirator through 100 cycles of sterilization, and also evaluated 7 different methods, putting the mask through 100 cycles of each method. These include microwaving, UV treatment, autoclaving, isopropyl alcohol with a concentration of 100%, bleach, and high heat. The results showed that the respirator could withstand all 100 cycles of the 7 methods used, as minimal change was found on the mask.

The mask can perform just as well as an N95 mask, which can filter out particles like dust, smoke, and viruses like the flu and the coronavirus. This mask is considered the best one for virus protection, and is often used with face shields for increased protection. Popular models include the 3M N95 masks in the models 3M 8210 and 3M 8511, and are often confused with KN95 masks, which are regulated under Chinese standards.

This is an elastomeric respirator, which means that it’s made with an elastic material, that is, a material that can regain its original shape after a load has been removed from it. This makes the respirator have a stretchy and transparent shell, and this is the part that can be sterilized. The filters need to be replaced by the user. According to co-author Adam Wentworth, the TEAL respirator would be the first elastomeric respirator that can be used in surgical settings, maintaining a sterile field.

The sensors added to the respirator can detect information like respiratory rate, exhalation temperature, and breathing temperatures. The experiment conducted had the goal to evaluate the performance of the mask in clinical settings, with participants scoring the breathability and fit of the mask, as well as how easy it was to change the filter, which is something the user must do by themselves.

The fact that the TEAL respirator is transparent allows visibility to the wearer’s mouth, which benefits communication while using the respirator. This is very important in the medical field, where communication is a key component of good medical attention to the patient. But, the TEAL respirator isn’t the only transparent alternative to N95 masks in development, as we’ll explain below.

These results look promising but, as the authors themselves acknowledge in their statement, the size of the study was small, and they need more evaluation with larger groups of people to compare these preliminary results. They’ve also stated that they still need certifications like the label of approval by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), necessary in the United States.

The SEEUS N95 respirator

The SEEUS95 is a respirator that showcases in its name its main characteristic: it’s completely transparent. It contains a filter made with 100% natural materials, like silk, carbon, silver, and bamboo, which are all environmentally safe raw materials. These are not only better for the environment, but they also have the potential to be more protective than a disposable N95 mask too.

Its creators ensure that this mask can offer much more protection than the disposable face masks known as N95 masks, which are made with non-woven material produced with polypropylene.

The bamboo offers strength to the mask, but also antiviral and antimicrobial properties by absorbing the moisture and fluids that can carry pathogens through the air. The silk also offers strength, as well as an electrostatic charge that increases the filtering qualities.  Nanosilver, commonly referred to as AgNPs, can effectively deactivate both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, and the active carbon is a common component of filters used to purify the air and water, absorbing the toxins.

The creators state that their biggest inspiration to design a completely clear face mask was the fact that people haven’t been seeing each other’s faces for over nine months. This translates into a lack of social interaction, which along with social distancing rules, has taken a toll on many people’s mental health. This miscommunication is higher in kids and deaf people. They believe people connect with others through their faces and decided to create the SEEUS95.

Another big innovation from this face mask is that it’s completely self-adhering, erasing the need for uncomfortable ear-loops, headbands, or straps. The mask is safe and gentle on the skin, using chitosan, a natural biopolymer often used in the medical field for healing of the skin in burn victims and hip replacements.

Condensation when temperatures are too high was one of the biggest concerns for this respirator, but the SEEUS95 has an anti-fog coating that prevents this. Wiping the inside with alcohol, as recommended by the creators, is another way to prevent this as well. While this mask is still in development, they have a FAQ section on their website where you can get more information about the project.

If you’re looking for face-coverings in the USA, you can find many options for sale online, available to buy in wholesale or in bulk. You can also find many resources for how to make one yourself at home. Stay protected during these difficult times.

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