Boise cardiologist helps develop new 3-D printed medical mask design

Posted at 11:37 AM, Apr 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-11 17:28:29-04

BOISE, Idaho — Dr. Ilyas Colombowala, a cardiologist at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, has partnered with Intermountain 3-D, a Garden City-based 3-D printing company, to develop a reusable protective mask that may be suitable for use by healthcare workers.

The mask features a removable filter, manufactured out of surgical wrap, which is used in the sterilization of surgical tools, and commonly found in great quantities in hospitals.

“There is a real need for Personal Protective Equipment in areas where there is a surge of COVID-19 patients,” Colombowala said. “While we have adequate supplies, we realize that as patient counts rise, the demand for masks to protect healthcare workers and patients will only increase.”

The mask is modeled after other open-source 3-D printed masks, but Colombowala said working with the local company, they have been able to modify a design to improve the filtration, fit and comfort of the mask. Masks need to be “fit-tested,” a process where the wearer of the mask is sprayed with a chemical substance. If the wearer smells or tastes either sweet or bitter tastes from the spray, the mask fails the test.

“N95 refers to a filtration system that’s efficient at removing .03-micron particles at 95 percent efficiency. We’ve used this mask on a number of subjects, and they’ve all come out of the test with a good fit test result,” he pointed out.

Colombowala said the mask itself is 3-D printed using medical-grade nylon, which improves the flexibility and comfort for the wearer. The filter, made from the surgical wrap, fits around a 3-D printed cartridge and is inserted into the front of the new mask. The filter cartridge can be replaced as needed.

“We’ve open-sourced all the files for 3-D printing, so anybody with the appropriate type of printer can make the masks,” he said. “These masks could potentially be used every day, if the need arises. The idea behind developing this mask was to have backup, a contingency plan, something that was a suitable alternative if we get to the point where we need this type of thing.”

Colombowala said that while the masks are being sold, they are only selling at a price to cover costs, and not to make a profit. And while he emphasized that they have not been approved by the FDA for use in medical settings, his partners at Intermountain 3-D are considering seeking government approval of the new masks.

(photo courtesy: Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center)