WVU research teams are working to develop alternative safety materials to N95 masks

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A team of scientists from West Virginia University and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health researched alternative materials and methods that could be used instead of masks N95.

WVU experts explained that when the pandemic first hit West Virginia, state and health officials began contacting researchers like Timothy Nurkiewicz of WVU’s Center for Inhalation Toxicology (iTOX). .

This facility has the ability to test the effects of inhaled particles and find the best solution to defend against them. After some research, Nurkiewicz and his team concluded that air filter material from home ovens can effectively stop coronavirus particles.

“HVAC furnace filters — especially premium filters that remove allergens and dust mites — can block COVID-19 well,” said Nurkiewicz, chair of physiology and pharmacology at the WVU School of Medicine. “We can overlay that and use it with publicly available 3D designs for respirator masks that would cover your face. This suit provides significant protection to anyone exposed to COVID-19 droplets. »

iTOX senior research engineer Travis Goldsmith kicked off the project by exploring ways to test unconventional filter materials. iTox worked with Veronica Cyphert, Julie O’Neil and Dr. Robert Gerbo of WVU Occupational Medicine to identify that the air filter material in a 3D printed mask also worked.

Dr. Matthew Dietz of WVU Orthopedics joined in the research and added window/door seals to the mask. According to officials, this addition has earned the mask a “pass” designation in clinical fit testing conducted by occupational medicine.

The team has since passed recommendations to the West Virginia National Guard, which is in the process of producing these masks. The National Guard has a network of printers that are currently in use, Nurkiewicz said.

For the second successful alternative, Nurkiewicz’s team developed an adapter that can be 3D printed and modified to universally fit any face mask. Goldsmith and Kevin Engels, of physiology and pharmacology, first developed a prototype.

Oxana and Mark Tseytlin of WVU Biochemistry, Walter McKinney and Erik Sinsel of NIOSH in Morgantown worked quickly to develop the prototype into a 3D-printed product and test it on a CPAP mask. The team said they found it effectively blocked simulated coronavirus droplets from seeping through.

Nurkiewicz said the design templates will be made freely available to the public in the coming weeks as the team refines the files.

“Without the expertise of West Virginia University’s expert researchers and faculty, we would not be able to move forward with our network of academic institutions, community and technical colleges, industries public and private organizations able to 3D print these tested designs to meet the ever-growing need for PPE in our state,” said Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard. “This collaboration underscores the importance of building strong partnerships between universities and government agencies to develop innovative solutions to the most pressing issues facing our population, including our ongoing fight against COVID-19 in Mountain State.”

Overall, the team tested more than 20 mask materials and designs. As healthcare professionals prepare for an expected spike in new coronavirus cases in West Virginia in the coming weeks, Nurkiewicz’s team is monitoring local PPE levels and stands ready to help if needed.

The WVU Inhalation Facility measures, identifies and discovers how the particles we breathe affect our health. It offers researchers real-time monitoring capabilities, while the many types of respirable particles it can accommodate during simultaneous experiments make it an international benchmark.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Nurkiewicz said as she reflected on the past few weeks. “We dream and come up with a lot of crazy ideas, but working with the military has been really educational and rewarding. They are a great group of people and we are very lucky to have their services.

Nurkiewicz said the research would not have been possible without the dedicated efforts of a diverse team of experts brought together as one.

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