Last week, Taiwanese-American scientist Peter Tsai – the inventor of the N95 mask – came out of retirement to offer his services in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak. His invention has been an essential tool to keep healthcare workers and everyone else protected from the highly-infectious SARS-CoV-2. It appears that more help is on the way as a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed an innovative alternative.
Although traditional N95 masks are theoretically reusable in a way, the pandemic sees many users throw it away after a single use. It seems that majority do not want the risk of getting infected just in case the item has not been properly disinfected. Hence with the help of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, the experts from MIT tested a prototype, which reportedly performed as intended in laboratory tests.
The timing of its announcement is interesting now that the surging number of cases is resulting in shortages of personal protective equipment. N95 masks are perhaps the most vital piece of gear that can filter out pathogens that may be airborne in certain situations. Gastroenterologist and MIT professor of mechanical engineering, Dr. Giovanni Traverso, stated: "One of the key things we recognized early on was that in order to help meet the demand, we needed to really restrict ourselves to methods that could scale."
"We also wanted to maximize the reusability of the system, and we wanted systems that could be sterilised in many different ways," he added. Injection Molded Autoclavable, Scalable, Conformable (iMASC) is the assigned name for the mask. It is crafted out of medical-grade silicone with two sections that can hold N95 filters. This allows users to replace these with more N95 materials which minimises waste.
Disinfecting the mask can be done in several ways: Steam sterilisation, soaking in a bleach/rubbing alcohol mixture, and heating in an oven. These were then tested by 20 healthcare workers who provided favourable feedback regarding how it fits and overall comfort. The latest data shows that the United States currently has 3.9 million recorded coronavirus cases out of 14.9 million worldwide. N95 and surgical masks are still the recommended types that can offer the best protection.