By Alyssa Schnugg
The simple act of mopping the floor inspired a University of Mississippi assistant professor to provide more masks to healthcare workers and the citizens of Mississippi.
Chip Wade, co-director of the Center of Diagnostics, Design, Devices and Biomechanics (D3B) at Ole Miss, research assistant professor in Biomedical Engineering and assistant professor in integrated marketing communications was watching the news while his wife used a wet Swiffer Sweeper to clean the floor.
”I was hearing of the mask shortages and my wife said, ‘Can you bring me a replacement filter for the wet Swiffer?’” Wade said. “That’s the solution I thought. Phone calls, Zoom calls, emails, prototypes, and 10 days later, the Ole Miss (OM) mask is nearly complete.”
A byproduct of the pandemic has been the stimulation in innovation,” Wade said.
“Companies, researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, academics, business leaders all have been on warp speed to help with parts and pieces of the pandemic,” he said.
The University of Mississippi is no different. Members of the Ole Miss community across the virtual campus are working on various solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wade contacted his Postdoc advisor, Mark Redfem at the University of Pittsburgh as well as other colleagues at the University of Southern Mississippi.
“I ask asked about the feasibility of this idea,” Wade said. “My colleagues, specifically Troy Drewry – Professor of Practice in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Mississippi and Operations Manager at D3B – got involved. Troy and I brainstormed multiple concepts and materials before nailing down our final design.”
Drewry enlisted the help of this longtime colleague and friend, Jim Duncan, CEO of Remedy Medical in Hernando to rapidly-produce several iterations of the mask design and 3D printed, rapid prototypes.
“This is exactly why the Center was conceived and so important to our community – to put all the pieces together to diagnose, design, and develop medical device solutions,” said Dwight Waddell, Chair of Biomedical Engineering at Ole Miss and Co-Director of the D3B.
Redfern connected Wade with a former student who is now the Director of Innovation and Clinical marketing for respiratory products at Phillips, as well as the former head of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Mines in Pittsburgh. This led to a connection to the director of PPE with NISOH.
“The network connections have been invaluable and the pathway to a certified mask solution that’s cost-effective is insight,” Wade said.
Students within the integrated marketing communications program have been doing research to solidify this idea and feasibility of the concept.
“This is a collaborative effort and shows how the Ole Miss community is truly innovative,” he said. “The Center for Diagnostics, Design, Devices and Biomechanics is showing its value even before it has a physical brick and mortar home.”
Wade, Drewry and their collaborators have three specific goals: make the mask affordable, make the mask safe (NIOSH certified), and design the mask to incorporate an off-the-shelf NIOSH and ANSI approved filter.
“Mask designs are a dime a dozen on the internet,” Wade said. “The challenges are the design’s effectiveness. The mask is a minor part, the filter is absolutely the key.”
The mask is made of polyurethane, similar to swimming goggles. The filter is thin, resembling the small pads inside of makeup products, Wade said.
“Getting the material for the filters is what we’re focusing on,” he said.
Wade said he expects to have a scaleable and producible PPE mask in the next few days. Funding has come internally.
“Our design is simple and scaleable through injection molding,” Wade said. “We have had conversations with hospital administrators, nurses, and doctors about the logistics and practice of PPE. Is our polymer mask going to be the most comfortable? No, but can it be produced at an increased rate compared to sewn masks and be significantly effective? Absolutely.”
The OM mask will be able to be massed produced at a fraction of the cost of other PPE masks, Wade said.
“We can probably make them for less than a dollar,” he said.
Once produced, the masks will be given to healthcare workers and facilities for free. The general public will be able to purchase them for just a few dollars.
“The money we get from the sale of the masks to the public will be able to fund us giving the masks free to our healthcare facilities around the state,” Wade said.
Wade said he and his fellow collaborators are searching for people who may have information about filtering material or have contacts with a supplier.
Anyone with such information can email Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.