COVID-19 McKelvey School of Engineering School of Medicine

Maker Task Force works to protect front-line health-care workers

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, a diverse team of makers from across Washington University in St. Louis’ Danforth and Medical campuses, Barnes-Jewish Hospital and BJC HealthCare have come together to protect front-line health-care workers and employees on the ground.

“With the surge of COVID-19 patients we’re expecting, we want to make sure doctors, nurses and other health-care providers do not run out of the PPE (personal protective equipment) and other supplies and equipment they need to do their jobs safely and take care of these patients well,” said Thomas M. Maddox, MD, professor of medicine and executive director of the BJC/WUSM Healthcare Innovation Lab.

The COVID-19 WashU/BJC Maker Task Force executive team consists of: Maddox; Ali Kosydor, the lab’s director of operations; Aaron Bobick, dean of the McKelvey School of Engineering; Eric Leuthardt, MD, professor of neurological surgery and inventor; and Philip Bayly, chair of mechanical engineering and materials science. Their varied expertise mirrors that of the larger task force that soon coalesced…

…In fact, “pace” stands out as one of the most impressive and integral features of the task force.

“It took about a week between coming up with the idea and building something that was working,” Bayly said.

He was referring to building a ventilator, capable of delivering air to patients when they can no longer breathe on their own efficiently.

“We wanted to have something we can put on the shelf,” he said. “Something that, if people said, ‘We need some of these,’ then hundreds could be available in a week.”

‘What clinicians need’

Bayly, the Lilyan & E. Lisle Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering, solicited the help of: Jerry Halley, a former student and chief engineer at a company that makes parts for fighter jets; Dennis Mell, an electrical engineer and professor of practice at the university; and machinist John Kreitler, of the Instrument Machine Shop at the School of Medicine.

After that initial week, Bayly said, they solicited feedback from Broc Burke, MD, PhD, instructor in anesthesiology, and others at the School of Medicine, and, about a week later, their ventilator was undergoing tests in a clinical simulation lab. “It’s not anywhere near a human patient,” he said — it’s on a dummy that mimics patient behavior.

(Video courtesy of Philip Bayly)

“We’re not medical people,” Bayly said. “We’re making something clinicians can evaluate.”

Leuthardt agreed: “We need to be able to understand what clinicians need and take it to the engineers and the makers and come up with solutions. One element that we’re working on is a mobile app that allows health-care workers on the front lines to identify what they need. We want to be able to monitor that in real time and quickly respond so, ideally, they never run out of key supplies.”

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