Coronavirus Innovations

04 April 2020


"Worldwide hackathon" – medtech innovations to fight coronavirus


“It’s a worldwide hackathon,” says Dr. Sarah Low.


She and other resident doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital are launching a ‘moonshot’ competition called CoVent-19, crowdsourcing a way to help coronavirus patients breathe. The online competition, open to anyone, challenges participants to create a ventilator that can be mass-produced quickly and cheaply, or a device that lets one ventilator treat multiple patients at once.


"The best ideas come from outside your field,” says Dr. Low.


And the hackathon goes way beyond this one competition. Designers, engineers and technologists of all kinds are coming together to fight coronavirus. From around the world, here are some examples of human ingenuity that could help to turn the tide against the virus.


Oxygen mask parts ran out… so Italians 3D printed more


The small Italian town of Chiari was so badly hit by coronavirus that the hospital ran out of a tiny but lifesaving piece of tech – the valves that connect oxygen masks to respirators. The supplier couldn’t keep up with demand, and patients’ lives were at stake.


A local journalist reached out to 3D printing companies for help, and additive manufacturing start-up Isinnova stepped up. They reverse-engineered the part and were able to 3D print the first prototype within six hours. It worked - so they made 100 more for free, and the CEO delivered them to the hospital by hand.


More effective face masks


Despite the number of face masks on the street, it’s common knowledge that they don’t may not do much to protect against coronavirus. But several companies are 3D-printing face shields that could successfully filter out the airborne nanoparticles that carry the virus.


One company, Copper3D, has released free plans for a 3D-printed N95 mask called ‘NanoHack’ online. In the Czech Republic, Prusa Research has presented their design to the Czech health ministry. And in New York, Budmen Industries – aka hardworking couple Isaac Budmen and Stephanie Keefe – whipped up more than 300 face shields for coronavirus test workers using 16 3D printers in their basement.


Rapid virus testing


Speaking of testing, a collaboration between China and Oxford has developed a technology that could triple the speed of coronavirus testing – from 1.5 or 2 hours to just half an hour.


Scientists from Oxford’s Engineering Science Department and an Oxford centre in China, Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR), created the test, which has already proved highly accurate in China and could identify patients at earlier stages of infection, helping to stop the spread.


What’s more, the test is simple to use and can be read by the naked eye, making it invaluable for rural health centres and airports, and hopefully even for home testing.


Antibody tests to measure immunity


When will social distancing end? Antibody testing could be the key to understanding when herd immunity has risen high enough to make it safe to go back to the pub.


Current NHS coronavirus tests only identify those who still have the virus in their bodies. But new serological tests are being developed to pick out those who recovered weeks or months ago – and even those who had the virus without symptoms – by detecting the antibodies that make them immune.


Dozens of antibody tests are being developed around the world, most using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), a biochemical test already used to detect HIV and Lyme disease. It works by mixing a blood sample with proteins from the virus. If antibodies are triggered, the test will change colour.


The UK could have the Rolls-Royce of ventilators – literally


As Britain’s Health Secretary says the NHS needs ventilators 'now more than anything else', Boris Johnson has called on British manufacturing giants to start making them, in a move reminiscent of Second World War efforts. Rolls Royce, Dyson, JCB, Philips, Unipart and Honda have all either been asked or shown interest in volunteering.


This is a big ask, as the companies would need to overhaul their whole supply chain and retrain their workforce to make and check the ventilators. Some experts are concerned that the process could take months, rather than the weeks it needs to take – but Professor David Delpy of the Royal Academy of Engineering suggests going back to earlier, simpler ventilator models could solve that.


Not-for-profit medtech staffing


In response to this call, Projectus Consulting is offering not-for-profit staffing to any medical device manufacturers of emergency equipment used to battle coronavirus.


CEO Tim Lawrie says: “At times like this we need to stand together to help the world. Staffing issues can be difficult at the best of times but are extremely difficult at present. We can support anything that anybody needs, across manufacturing, engineering, quality control, and training support within the medtech sector.”


Interested? Email or call +44 203 8000 501 to find out more.

Interested? Email or call +44 203 8000 501 to find out more.