Swanson School projects attack different COVID-19 issues

COVID-19 patients and the medical personnel who treat them could soon benefit from two different projects out of the Swanson School of Engineering.

Helping lungs heal

The Hemolung Respiratory Assist System — developed by William Federspiel, professor of bioengineering, and the Pittsburgh-based lung-assist device company he co-founded, ALung Technologies — is a minimally invasive device that does the work of the lungs by removing carbon dioxide directly from the blood, much as a dialysis machine does the work of the kidneys. The device recently received Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration

Hemolung could help eliminate damage to the lungs caused by ventilators and does not require intubation or sedation, which allows patients to remain mobile during treatment. Health records from a New York study showed that close to 90 percent of patients who were placed on mechanical ventilation did not survive.

“Ventilation can cause serious issues in lungs that are already being damaged by the disease itself,” Federspiel said in a news release. “The Hemolung would allow the lung to rest and heal during the ventilation process by allowing for gentler ventilation. It could also prevent certain patients, who have less severe symptoms, from having to go on ventilation in the first place.”

Created to help chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and acute respiratory distress syndrome patients, Hemolung has already been used on thousands of patients in Europe, where it was approved in 2013, and it is currently in clinical trials in the United States.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the device has been used on some COVID-19 patients with success; however, set-up of the Hemolung is not trivial. Medical professionals would need to be trained to use the technology, and it would take time to supply a significant number of devices.

Read more about the device on the Swanson School’s website.

Reusable mask filters

Pitt has partnered with the ExOne Company, a leader in industrial 3D printers using binder jetting technology, to develop reusable metal filters that fit into a specially designed respirator cartridge for sustainable, long-term protection against contaminants, such as COVID-19.

ExOne has 3D printed respirator filters in two metals — copper and 316L stainless steel — and a range of porosity levels for use inside a unique cartridge designed by the Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science department in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering.  Markus Chmielus, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, is working on the project, along with other faculty, students and staff, to help find a solution to the “shortage of masks and filters that we are experiencing in this pandemic.”

Initial testing for airflow and filtration efficiency is currently underway, and the filters are being optimized with the goal of adhering to an N95 respirator standard.

“Our team has been working urgently to expedite this promising and reusable solution for medical personnel on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic,” John Hartner, ExOne CEO, said in a news release. “Our customers routinely print porous metal filters for a variety of purposes, and we are confident that we’ll have a solution soon that can enable medical personnel to sterilize metal filters for repeated reuse, eliminating waste. Once approved, we can print these filters in a variety of sizes for respirators, ventilators, anesthesia masks or other equipment.”

See more about the project on the Swanson School’s website.