Necessity is the mother of invention – innovations in the corona pandemic

Elena Blume
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Keeping your distance, washing your hands, wearing a mask – such protective measures have been the order of the day since the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic began. But appropriate products or procedures are not suitable for everyone, are often unavailable or, despite everything, carry a residual risk. The need for new, better solutions is high. But necessity is the mother of invention.

At the beginning of the corona pandemic, there was a particular lack of sufficient protective equipment. A quick solution was offered by 3D printing, which allowed, for example, facial visors to be produced in large numbers and usually directly at the point of use. According to the European Patent Office, additive manufacturing technology has since advanced to become one of the most important industries in the world.

The crisis as a driver for innovation

Masks have become a constant companion in all our daily lives. It is therefore not surprising that there are already numerous innovative further developments of the mouth-nose protection. For example, edelweiss dentistry has developed Virustatic Shield, a type of scarf that is pulled over the mouth, nose and ears, with a special antiviral coating. This has been proven to prevent up to 99 percent of viruses from being transmitted through the air. A mask that disinfects itself has been developed by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in collaboration with Osmotex AG. With the help of a small battery, moisture and oxygen, reactive oxygen species are created that kill germs. Find out more about self-disinfection at the touch of a button in this interview.

For people who rely primarily on nonverbal communication, masks are a major barrier. These include people who are deaf, hard of hearing or suffering from dementia, but also children. With miama, iuvas medical GmbH offers a solution to this problem. It is a transparent mask. In doing so, it also protects the wearer from viruses. "Miama offers a tight fit that helps to create a better seal around the sides of your face. The filters exhibit a particulate filtration efficiency of 98 percent for NaCl aerosols. This exceeds the latest state-of-the-art technology," says Dr. Sebastian Hin in an interview with MEDICA-tradefair.com. While he classifies the contribution of the innovative mask to the containment of the pandemic as rather small, he emphasizes another major advantage: "Miama's biggest contribution is that it facilitates essential therapies and the types of care where facial expressions or human interaction are crucial to success. It would be impossible to conduct these therapy sessions and foster an improved quality of life with traditional face masks."

With photodynamics and UV-C radiation against corona

Masks alone cannot prevent the spread of Covid-19 - hygiene measures such as regular and thorough disinfection are just as important. One form of pathogen spread is via surfaces. "Human pathogens can persist on surfaces for days or even weeks and leave a reservoir from which infection can be transmitted to another person and subsequently spread," explains Prof. Wolfgang Bäumler from the University Hospital Regensburg in an interview with MEDICA-tradefair.com. There, an antimicrobially effective coating for contact surfaces is being tested in the "PACMAN" project. Bäumler explains how this works as follows: "The surfaces are coated with a solution containing a photodynamic dye molecule. It dries quickly and leaves a durable, thin coating behind. When the coated surface is exposed to light, it generates a highly reactive oxygen (singlet oxygen) that kills bacteria and viruses on the surface."

Any wipe disinfection always poses a risk to the employee in question. Thus, service robots are gaining importance in this context. In the "MobDi" (Mobile Disinfection) project, twelve Fraunhofer institutes are working on new robotic solutions for efficient, but also gentle disinfection in various operational environments. To this end, they are researching different cleaning and disinfection processes and their possible combinations. For example, a robot could first wipe a door handle and then disinfect hard-to-reach areas with UV light. We have already presented the Hero21 disinfection robot, which uses UV-C radiation to independently remove germs from rooms, in this interview.

Of aerosols and air filters

However, the main route of transmission for SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to be respiratory uptake, i.e. infection via the air we breathe or via aerosols exhaled by infected persons. Air purifiers are experiencing a boom thanks to the pandemic. One such filter system is the Hygiene Air Tower from IVAT GmbH, which cleans the air of more than 99.99 percent of all viruses using four-stage high-performance filters and UV-C radiation. This meets the requirements of an operating theater. According to a study by the University of the German Armed Forces in Munich, the room air should be changed at least six times every hour – even more frequently in the case of particularly high or low humidity, low temperatures or a ppm value of more than 1000. The tower's unique, patent-pending measurement technology monitors precisely these parameters and adjusts the air exchange rate accordingly. In addition, the low-noise Tower is capable of cooling or heating rooms, filtering odors, and disinfecting hands and objects. The integrated camera can be used for video conferencing, as a people counter, as a thermal imaging sensor or for surveillance.

The protective canopy is a mobile airlock that provides a single workstation with a stream of fresh air and filters aerosols, preventing infection with Covid-19. We reported on Fraunhofer IBP's development in this interview.

Am I doing it right?

At its Heidelberg site, the German Asklepios Klinik Nord has been using a hygiene quick check since summer 2020. A virtual airlock uses optical sensors and artificial intelligence to check the donning of personal protective clothing such as mouth/nose protection, gloves, safety goggles, protective gowns or headgear. Instructions for correct donning are displayed on monitors. The software translates all images into 3D schematics so that employees are digitally anonymized, and no personal data is stored. The PathSpot scanner also functions as a hygiene check. After washing hands, it checks how efficient this was. Thanks to fluorescence spectroscopy, it detects whether pathogens are still on the hands.

Whereas at the beginning of the pandemic the main focus was on meeting the urgent need for protective equipment, solutions are now being developed to make daily life easier with the new requirements. Traditional products such as masks are being optimized, more efficient disinfection procedures are being researched, and tools are being developed to help with proper compliance. All innovations have one thing in common: they protect us all to a high degree from infection with Covid-19 and make an important contribution to containing the pandemic.

Conventional wipe disinfection is increasingly being supplemented by new technologies.
 

Conventional wipe disinfection is increasingly being supplemented by new technologies.

 

Self-disinfecting, transparent or just ordinary - protective masks are now available in all kinds of designs.

 

Air purifiers significantly reduce aerosol exposure and thus the risk of infection indoors.

 

In addition to innovative products and procedures, hand washing is still among the most important measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.