Conflict zone tech deploys to COVID-19 front lines

Editor’s note: Visit the official WesternCOVID-19 website for the latest campus updates.

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Applying lessons learned in conflict zones half a world away, Dr. Tarek Loubani is helping front-line health-care workers closer to home combat COVID-19.

The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professor has developed a template to create 3D-printed medical supplies, specifically face-shields and sterilizable stethoscopes to reduce virus transmission.

“My colleagues in the emergency department are brave and determined to keep our fellow Canadians as safe as possible throughout this,” said the emergency room physician at London Health Sciences Centre. “We know this will be hard, however, what I see around me is a dignity and courage often seen in the trenches of any battle, despite the dangers they face.”

Around the world, hospitals face limited stock of surgical masks, gowns, gloves, eye protection and face shields. Reagents for PCR SARS COV-2 testing kits are also in high demand.

That scarcity is a familiar story for Loubani, who recalled days in Gaza when he shared one stethoscope with 10 other doctors who were trying to treat more than 100 patients.

“We weren’t just low on medical supplies, but even the basics, like stethoscopes, were totally missing,” he said.

That struggle inspired him to find a way to help health-care providers create their own supplies on site with an open-access template for a 3D-printed stethoscope produced using recycled plastic. Now, he is translating that idea into create protective face shields for front-line health workers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researcher models 3D-printed face shield

Special to Western NewsWestern researcher Dr. Tarek Loubani and his Glia Project team, a medical supplies charity, have designed a face shield made from mylar and elastic. The shield covers the whole face, protecting the nose and eyes from droplets that may contain the virus.

“We are in a moment where traditional supply lines are breaking down. That’s where local manufacturing technologies like 3D printing really shine,” he explained. “We can use local resources to construct these supplies in time without depending on everything along a complicated supply chain to be working and intact.”

Loubani and his Glia Project team, a medical supplies charity, have designed a face shield made from mylar and elastic. The shield covers the whole face, protecting the nose and eyes from droplets that may contain the virus. They are printed in a Health-Canada approved facility that was inspected late last year.

These shields are used along with N95 respirators which protect health-care providers from breathing in the virus.

“I was in the emergency department, realizing just how short we already were on personal protective equipment. And we haven’t even come close to our peak. What will it look like in three weeks? So, we decided to go full speed and produce,” he said.

So far, they’ve produced hundreds of the face shields with a focus on suppling local health-care providers. “We’re sons and daughters of the emergency department and the hospital,” he said. “So, what we’re doing here is just making sure that our colleagues and friends are protected.”

Loubani hopes to provide the technology to hospitals across Canada so they can create face shields on site, if they have the printers. If not, he hopes health-care centres can partner with those who already have printers.

“Are we scared? Of course. We all have families and friends and also worry about ourselves,” he said. “But all of us came into medicine for moments like these – the moments of hardship that truly matter.”

Find the free, open-source plans here.