Researchers at all three Corridor universities – the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida and the University of Florida – have acted quickly to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), support medical personnel and save lives.

From the darkness of this crisis, these research projects have emerged as beacons of hope. Conducted in collaboration with local businesses, they also demonstrate the power of partnership on which The Corridor’s high tech industry has grown.

Read on for a look at several projects underway.

University of Central Florida (UCF)

At UCF in Orlando, an interdisciplinary collaboration between experts in engineering and health care is working to develop a coating for personal protective equipment (PPE) that could catch and kill the virus on contact.

Created by Sudipta Seal, Ph.D., chair of the materials science and engineering department, and Griffith Parks, Ph.D., the College of Medicine’s associate dean for research, the sterilizing nanoparticle film employs ultraviolet light to destroy the virus. According to UCF Today, the project has already received funding from the National Science Foundation. Now, researchers hope to refine the coating for application on masks, gloves, gowns and other PPE used by medical providers treating patients with COVID-19.

Also at UCF, direct-support organization Limbitless Solutions has transformed its 3-D printing operations from developing artistic upper-limb prosthetics for children to create critical parts of the PPE worn by many health care workers. Working with industry partner, Stratasys, Limbitless is printing plastic visors to support the manufacturing of face shields for Orlando Health employees. Each visor is imprinted with a special word or phrase, including “Love,” “Compassion,” “Thank You” and “Hope.”

Image courtesy of UCF

Since production started in March, the team has already shipped nearly 600 visors. It is now creating “earsaver” hooks for surgical masks that are placed behind the ears to reduce pressure and decrease discomfort.

“When we first learned about the coalition from Stratasys, we were so excited to be able to do something to support the community. It was a natural fit with our 3-D printing capacity and work in the medical environment,” said Limbitless president and co-founder, Albert Manero. “Limbitless clinical research is dedicated to supporting communities using 3-D printing and advanced manufacturing. In this unique time of need, being able to support nurses, doctors and all the medical staff that care for our community is the highest priority.”

University of South Florida (USF)

In Tampa, students in the USF College of Engineering are teaming up with peers at the USF Morsani College of Medicine to create face shields for medical personnel at Tampa General Hospital, the university’s primary teaching hospital and USF Health faculty practice.

Reported by the Tampa Bay Business Journal, the team of student innovators can create one face shield per minute and had already donated over 5,000 face shields by the end of April.

Additionally, Summer Decker, Ph.D., who directs the 3-D Clinical Applications Division in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, quickly activated a research team in just two weeks to develop a prototype for 3-D printed nasal swabs to address the national shortage of COVID-19 testing kits.

“We were notified of the national and international shortage of nasopharyngeal swabs by our dean of medicine, Dr. Charles Lockwood. We immediately began investigating whether or not 3-D printing could provide a workable solution that was patient safe and accurate,” Decker shared. “As a point-of-care 3-D printing medical team here at USF Health and Tampa General Hospital, we were uniquely positioned to be able to immediately use FDA-cleared printers and materials that we use in our day-to-day clinical practice.”

Image courtesy of USF Health

Testing proved the prototype of Decker’s 3-D-printed nasal swabs to be effective. Now, the team is just awaiting clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before sharing its design with other hospitals, both near and far.

More recently, USF announced it will invest in 14 projects addressing the coronavirus outbreak through its COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Grants program. Several of these projects will also receive funding from The Corridor Council’s Matching Grants Research Program to support collaborations between university and industry researchers.

University of Florida (UF)

In Gainesville, Samsun Lampotang, Ph.D., FAIMBE, professor of anesthesiology at the UF College of Medicine, is leading a research team dedicated to the creation of an open-source ventilator with help from Gordon Gibby, M.D., MSEE, and his global network of ham radio operators. Their goal is to design a ventilator that could be assembled in roughly one hour for about $250 using parts commonly found at local hardware stores.

After completing initial designs and testing, the team started a Twitch stream to observe the ventilator’s endurance. The livestream has documented how the device works and several of its failures, offering potential users a transparent look at its efficacy before creating their own at home. The team hit a major milestone April 17 after the ventilator ran continuously for three weeks – the reported maximum time patients with severe cases of coronavirus would need a ventilator.

Image courtesy of Louis Brems, UF Health

The ventilator design and related software are available for free online, although the team is waiting to receive approval for an emergency use authorization, which allows the FDA to temporarily authorize assistive projects like the University of Florida’s during public health emergencies. So far, the project has cleared its first step in a two-step review process.

“The FDA has been very, very nimble and very responsive,” Lampotang shared. “They have done pretty much incredible things in terms of response time.” ​

Lampotang’s colleague, professor of anesthesiology Bruce Spiess, Ph.D., is separately leading efforts to solve for the significant shortage of N95 masks. As a medical professional, Spiess routinely works with Halyard H600, a sterilizing fabric used in hospitals to protect surgical instruments from bacteria particles. The material is typically discarded after one use, however, Spiess’ research uncovered the potential for Halyard H600 to be recycled and found that it blocks 99% of particles.

With elective surgeries put on hold, Spiess and his colleagues collaborated to design new medical masks made from recycled Halyard H600 material. Meanwhile, his wife turned to Facebook to recruit volunteers who could assist with sewing the material. Shands Hospital is among those that have since joined the initiative, recycling Halyard H600 and packaging it for pickup by Dr. Spiess and his team of volunteers who make the masks.

These are just a few instances of the rapid response to COVID-19 by both The Corridor’s university and industry partners alike. Now, more than ever, researchers are putting this region on the map as they answer the call to solve problems on the global stage.

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