Research and innovation as an essential function amid the COVID-19 pandemic

HOUSTON-(April 29, 2020) – Necessity being the mother of invention, Houston Methodist clinicians, researchers and staff have collaborated on a number of clinical device and research innovations in response to COVID-19. President of the Houston Methodist Academic Institute H. Dirk Sostman, M.D., an active clinician for more than 20 years, has continually emphasized translational research in new technologies. Here are some examples:

 

Out-of-the-box Thinking

Houston Methodist’s new Engineering Medicine program (EnMed), a collaboration with Texas A&M University’s engineering and medicine colleges, gave students their first real-time assignment, helping Houston Methodist with a variety of innovative devices and workarounds addressing immediate needs brought about by the challenges of COVID-19.

From the hospital’s machine shop to infection control and ICU physicians, all were instrumental in helping with rapid prototyping of clinical devices. Examples include:

  • HMAC: Houston Methodist Aerosol Container – Plexiglass boxes that offer an added layer of protection for health care workers when intubating COVID-19 patients. Protects doctors from patients’ aerosolized respiratory particles and droplets and helps conserve N95 masks.
  • Personal Protective Pods (PPP) and Collection Pods – Tall plexiglass boxes – one on wheels and one stationary — that look like phone booths. Nurses go into the wheeled plexiglass booths and put their hands through two holes, allowing them to check and change IVs, ports and monitors without having to wear valuable PPE. The stationary pod is a similar design, allowing medical staff to sit inside while performing NP swab collections.
  • “The Helmet” is made of lightweight, transparent plastic that looks like a spacesuit hood and is used to keep patients off ventilators. Two tubes supply oxygen while removing carbon dioxide, and it has a viral filter to minimize health care workers’ exposure to COVID-19. Houston Methodist acquired and tested three of these devices, which are produced by Sea-Long Medical Systems, and use them to stabilize ICU patients.
  • 3D Printable Spacer/Diffusers for Metered Dose Inhalers – Many COVID-19 patients require bronchodilator drugs administered through an inhaler or nebulizer, but nebulizers convert medication into a mist, so using these on COVID-19 patients may spread the virus. Therefore, inhalers are the preferred treatment with a spacer attached, which acts as a diffuser and doesn’t produce a mist. Spacers, however, are in short supply due to increased demand, so a 3D printable spacer was created in collaboration with EnMed faculty.
  • DIY N95 mask alternative – Houston Methodist physicians and researchers worked with EnMed faculty engineers to design a do-it-yourself kit for creating a safe and efficient alternative to N95 masks.
  • UV light and autoclave mask sterilization – The N95 reprocessing program collects masks in high-use areas for UV light and autoclave sterilization. These sterilized masks can then be safely used again, increasing their longevity.

 

Clinical Trials and Investigational Therapies

Researchers are working swiftly to speed up potential therapies. Some are solidly underway and others are in various stages of planning and execution:

  • Convalescent blood serum trial: Houston Methodist was the first academic medical center in the nation to infuse donated plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient into a critically ill patient. Like a blood donation, physicians draw plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19, in the hope that their blood plasma contains antibodies to fight the virus. Doctors then infuse the donor’s plasma into ill COVID-19 patients, who are not yet immune from the virus.
  • Remdesivir trial: Houston Methodist was the fifth clinical trial site in the U.S. to offer the antiviral drug Remdesivir as an investigational therapy for COVID-19 patients. Originally developed to treat Ebola more than a decade ago, it has been successful in stopping SARS and MERS in previous tests. Houston Methodist is part of two multicenter studies looking at its safety and efficacy in adults with moderate to severe cases. Remdesivir interferes with the virus and blocks its ability to replicate in patients’ cells. Investigators say the goal is to hold off the deadly inflammatory cascade that leads to respiratory failure and the need to be intubated and put on a ventilator.

 

To speak with H. Dirk Sostman, M.D., contact Lisa Merkl, Houston Methodist, at 832-667-5916, 281-620-2502 or [email protected].

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