The alternative to N95 masks that is currently being worked on by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and MIT

Since the beginning of the year, when the coronavirus pandemic was starting to spread and to gain force, we’ve been dealing with many sources of stress. Face masks are now part of our lives, and they’ve been the main focus of discussion during the majority of the year. In the United States, many people began to buy medical supplies and PPE (personal protective equipment) in bulk and wholesale back in January, but now these items, including N95 masks and KN95 masks, are very hard to find for sale online.

Many studies are being done to find a way to deal with the shortages of these supplies, which is primarily affecting healthcare providers. In this article, we’ll discuss an alternative developed by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

An alternative to N95 masks

A new invention that could represent an alternative to N95 respirators has been developed at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Investigators there have been working on a better and reusable design of the respirator, which is an alternative that could solve a lot of problems surrounding the valuable respirator.

They introduced sensors that inform the wearer if the respirator has been put on properly and they also let the user know when the filter is saturated. The result is what they’ve called TEAL respirator: transparent, elastomeric, adaptable, long-lasting respirator. According to the results published in the ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science journal, a fit testing with 40 participants reported a 100% success rate, and the feedback indicates that it’s breathable and fits comfortably.

Author Giovanni Traverso indicated that the urgent need for respirators and masks during the COVID-19 pandemic was the inspiration behind the team’s efforts to develop a respirator that was comfortable and could be sterilized over and over again. Trasverso is a gastroenterologist and biomedical engineer at Brigham in the Division of Gastroenterology, as well as an assistant professor at MIT in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

To achieve a sterilizable model, they put the TEAL respirator through 100 sterilization cycles, finding that the mask could withstand it. They also evaluated 7 different methods, including autoclaving, microwaving, UV treatment, high heat, isopropyl alcohol at 100% concentration, and bleach, putting the respirator through 100 cycles of each method. Minimal change in the respirator was found after the repeated sterilization cycles.  

The respirator is a transparent and stretchy shell, which is the part that is sterilized, with replaceable filters. ‘Elastomeric’ means that the material is elastic, that is, that it can regain its original shape when a load is removed from it. TEAL would be the first elastomeric respirator intended for use in a surgical setting while preserving a sterile field, according to co-author Adam Wentworth.

The addition of sensors to the respirator would allow them to detect information like breathing pressures, respiratory rate, and exhalation temperature. The experiment evaluated the performance of the respirator in a clinical setting too, where participants scored the respirator on fit, breathability, and how easy it was to change the filter, while also asking them if they preferred this respirator to their other available options. 60% preferred the TEAL respirator, 5% preferred standard respirators, and 35% had no preference.

Another aspect that is innovative in the TEAL respirator is that it’s transparent, allowing visibility of the mouth, which would be helpful for communication while wearing a respirator. Communicating is very important in the medical field, and it’s also a breath of fresh air in comparison to the months we’ve spent wearing face masks that cover most of the face.

Even though the results look promising, the authors acknowledge that the sample size of the study was relatively small and that it’s important to more evaluation and research in a larger group of individuals. The testing from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also necessary when talking about supplies and equipment in the healthcare field.

N95 masks and why this invention is important

N95 masks are the best disposable face masks for virus protection available for sale at the moment. They’re better for antiviral purposes than the other options we have right now, including surgical, medical, and reusable cloth masks. They can be worn with face shields for eye protection, and the most popular models in the USA are the 3M N95 masks in the models 3M 8511 and 3M 8210.

According to NIOSH, ‘N95’ refers to any type of respirator that isn’t resistant to oil and can filter out 95% of the airborne particles in the air, making them effective for protection against dust, smoke, and viruses like the flu or the new coronavirus, which are non-oil based airborne particles. This is why anyone who uses an N95 mask is having the highest protection from a face mask during the pandemic.

N95 masks are disposable because after 8 to 12 hours of use they start to lose their filtration properties and become less effective. The materials used in these respirators, although they’re very effective for filtration purposes, aren’t very durable. The fact that they’re disposable makes the problem of scarcity and shortages being worse, which is why the main focus of research has been to develop a respirator with the same efficacy as N95 ones, but are reusable and sterilizable.  

We would like to remind our readers that wearing a face mask is the best way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which is why everyone should wear one, including kids over 2 years old with face masks in a smaller size.

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