New ideas in the fight against emerging challenges

Throughout human history, necessity has always driven innovation; humanity faces a collective problem and inevitably discovers a novel way to overcome it. Just as World War II gave rise to inventions as breathtaking as nuclear energy and as mundane as duct tape, so too will Covid be the source of exciting new technologies. Steve Kemler, an entrepreneur and business leader, highlights some of the many innovations that have already sprung from the challenges posed by the novel coronavirus. 

While the havoc wrought by Covid-19 has impacted nearly every aspect of human life, nowhere has that havoc been more intensely felt than in the medical arena. It is no wonder then that in recent months certain medical innovations have gone from idea to experiment to reality in record time. 

One prime example of the collaboration currently taking place between research and medical staff is Houston Methodist’s new Engineering Medicine program (EnMed), operated in collaboration with Texas A&M University’s colleges of engineering and medicine. Having related experience,, Steve Kemler, Managing Director of the Stone Arch Group, understands the complexities of health care training programs and applauds the rapid pace at which Houston Methodist has been able to move innovative ideas from the hospital’s machine shop directly into the hands of physicians. Among the innovative clinical devices developed to combat Covid-19 are the Houston Methodist Aerosol Container, “the Helmet”, and mask sterilization.

The Houston Methodist Aerosol Container (“HMAC”) is a plexiglass box that protects health care workers when intubating COVID-19 patients. The container is designed to protect against aerosolized respiratory particles and droplets, enhancing the protection offered by personal protective equipment (“PPE”) such as N95 masks. HMAC was designed to address the acute shortage of high quality PPE faced by many hospitals and healthcare providers – a shortfall that was exacerbated by our lack of understanding as to the true transmissibility, or how that transmissibility changes in various environments. 

“The Helmet”, unsurprisingly, is a plastic helmet that looks somewhat like the hood of a spacesuit. Made of lightweight, transparent plastic, the device helps keep patients off ventilators by supplying a patient with oxygen while removing carbon dioxide from their lungs using a pair of thin tubes. The device also includes a viral filter, minimizing the extent to which the patient can spread Covid-19 to others. This invention was also a product of necessity, addressing the expected shortage of ventilators in American hospitals as Covid-19 cases rose to dramatic heights. Houston Methodists has so far tested three designs, which were then produced by Sea-Long Medical Systems – a great example of industry collaborating with researchers to address a global problem within drastically shortened timeframes.

Finally, engineers have found ways to safely reprocess and sterilize the N95 masks that are so crucial for front line healthcare workers combatting the pandemic. Using UV light and autoclave sterilization, these engineers have enabled used masks to be put back into use on the front lines, increasing the masks’ longevity and keeping healthcare workers safe. This innovative use of existing technology to solve a new problem is a great example of thinking outside the box to address a crucial issue in real time.