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Meeting a Critical Demand

A team from throughout the community, led by The Grainger College of Engineering and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, delivers Personal Protective Equipment.

FALL 2020

After making the Illinois RapidVent designs available under a free license, another team from the University of Illinois also made a suite of Personal Protective Equipment available. Engineers, physicians, researchers and designers from the university and Carle Health fabricated these N-95 respirator masks; disposable face shields; disposable and reusable gowns; and reusable surgical face masks.

“Local healthcare providers tested prototypes of each product, and designs were modified based on user feedback. Finished, sterilized products will be delivered at cost to Carle Foundation Hospital and OSF Healthcare,” said Irfan Ahmad, Executive Director of Illinois’ Health Maker Lab and Assistant Dean for Research at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. The Health Maker Lab is a network of maker labs and design spaces across the University of Illinois campus. Professionals, students, and citizen scientists collaborate, ideate, and create unique solutions to global health challenges by prototyping anything at any scale—from molecules to buildings.

The university tested both large-scale and small-scale sterilization of PPE, Ahmad said. The large-scale sterilization process has been reviewed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is currently under review by the US Food and Drug Administration. For PPE product development, the team sought FDA guidance under Emergency Use Authorizations for PPE.

“The goal is to offer local health care providers the opportunity to sterilize large quantities of reusable PPE at our facilities,” said Lyndon Goodly, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research, Director of the Division of Animal Resources, and co-lead on the sterilization project.

The I-PPE initiative has three distinct phases built on the Health Maker Lab node network: prototyping and testing individual products; prototyping small-scale production; and scaling-up to manufacture large quantities, explained Helen Nguyen, the Ivan Racheff Professor of Environmental Engineering and lead on the PPE project.

“We successfully achieved our goals for PPE design and prototyping,” Nguyen said. “Since the university has limited capacity for production, we will be sharing our designs with interested manufacturers capable of medium- to large-scale production to meet the short- and long-term PPE supply needs of local and regional communities.” 

Hospitals across the state continue to experience higher than usual demand for PPE, and supply shortages nationwide have made it difficult to secure additional supplies, said Carle Chief Medical Officer Dr. Charles Dennis. “Our partnership with the University of Illinois is helping to mitigate pressure on our PPE supply. Importantly, it has demonstrated the power of collaboration when organizations and communities come together to respond to local challenges.”

The PPE design initiative, led jointly by The Grainger College of Engineering and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s Health Maker Lab, was dubbed “I-PPE” by team leaders. The “I” stands for “Illinois,” “innovation,” and “I”—local manufacturers and community members—can make it.  Several of the university’s colleges, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, the Champaign Urbana Community Fab Lab, local volunteers, and others are participating in the effort.

“The rapid response, and ‘we can do it’ mentality reminiscent of Rosie the Riveter, has been inspiring. The craftmanship, tenacity, and ingenuity of our community embodies the spirit of what it means to be American,” said Catherine Best, a research assistant professor in the Bioengineering Department, and co-lead on the gowns PPE project.

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