NASA's Glenn Research Center and University Hospitals have collaborated to develop new ways to decontaminate personal protective equipment (PPE) for applications in aerospace and medicine to safeguard the health of workers caring for patients with COVID-19, according to a news release.
Researchers recently developed two new approaches that could enable healthcare professionals to sanitize masks on-site and safely reuse them, according to the release. The techniques may also be useful to the aerospace community when traditional sterilization methods aren't available.
"NASA strives to ensure the technology we develop for space exploration and aeronautics is broadly available to benefit the public and the nation," said Marla Pérez-Davis, Glenn Center director, in a provided statement. "If our technology can lend a hand in overcoming this crisis, we will do whatever we can to put it in the hands of those who need it."
The methods — atomic oxygen and peracetic acid — have both shown "promising" results, according to the release.
Pervasive in low-Earth orbit, single oxygen atoms can remove organic materials that can't be easily cleaned by other methods, according to the release.
"On Earth, we create atomic oxygen by putting ozone (O3) in a chamber and heating it," Glenn research engineer Sharon Miller said in a provided statement. "As the ozone decomposes into atomic oxygen, it can kill organisms like viruses."
Miller worked with physicist Bruce Banks of SAIC to develop a process and hardware to decontaminate masks with atomic oxygen. Though further testing is needed to verify the method can be used to perform multiple decontamination cycles without damaging the PPE, results for the atomic oxygen decontamination method are favorable, according to the release.
Peracetic acid — a chemical disinfectant commonly used in the healthcare, food and water treatment industries — is another possible option for decontaminating PPE. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the peracetic acid method, which has been proven to work for five cycles of decontamination, for an emergency use authorization. Dr. Amrita John and Dr. Shine Raju, infectious disease and critical care physicians in the Department of Medicine at UH Cleveland Medical Center, are examining this method.
"We found that the peracetic acid disinfection method is very effective in killing 99.9999% of viruses and even highly resistant bacterial spores from contaminated N95 masks without any detectable loss of filtration, structural integrity and strap elasticity for up to five decontamination cycles," Raju said in a provided statement.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Case Western Reserve University, and Glenn are participants in the study, according to the release, which notes that UH Ventures, the innovation and commercialization arm of UH, facilitated the collaboration.
Though the system currently has sufficient PPE on hand, UH needs "to proactively and prudently plan for potential future needs," Dr. Daniel I. Simon, UH's chief clinical and scientific officer and president of UH Cleveland Medical Center, said in a provided statement. He added that the system needs to factor in the need for PPE as it resumes non-emergent and elective services, as well as the possibility of supply chain shortages as COVID-19 surges elsewhere.
"The opportunity to pool resources and quickly bring about PPE sterilization solutions for the benefit of our caregivers is truly remarkable," he said.