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Researchers Developing Ways To Disinfect PPE For Potential Reuse

Researchers from the University of Auckland and the University of Otago have received funding of $1.3m to put in place a mobile solution to disinfect and potentially reuse personal protective equipment (PPE).

Lead researcher Dr Yvonne Anderson of the University of Auckland’s Medical School says the project has the potential to protect frontline workers against virus transmission in hospitals and the wider community. It may also address what continues to be a ‘river’ of PPE going to landfill.

“Being a front-line worker, I know how important it is that the voices of healthcare workers are heard in this area to ensure an acceptable end-product. By conserving PPE and creating safe disinfection solutions, we create an insurance policy against running short of this essential equipment in the future, and may also stem what is proving to be a major problem for the environment,” she said.

While New Zealand has avoided major strain on its health system to date, internationally the pandemic continues to affect millions of people, placing serious pressure on many health systems who continue to require large volumes of PPE to keep health staff protected.

Dr Anderson and Dr José Derraik of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences and the Liggins Institute reviewed research on how best to disinfect PPE. They have worked with collaborators in New Zealand, the University of Waterloo in Canada, the Taranaki DHB and a New Zealand company to create and trial a process that enables PPE to be safely disinfected and reprocessed for potential reuse. The proposed disinfection protocol may involve a combination of storage, heat and ultraviolet (UV) light.

The team are trialling the process on gowns, surgical masks, N95 respirator face masks, face shields and eye wear to demonstrate that the process means used PPE can safely be disinfected for potential reuse.

Initial estimates are that the disinfection protocol would increase the available supply of N95 face masks alone by 400 per cent, with the designed system potentially capable of disinfecting 300 masks per hour.

The next step is for the team to test and refine their protocol with Professor Miguel Quiñones-Mateu and his team on actual SARS-CoV-2 virus (which causes Covid-19), kept safe in a highly contained laboratory at the University of Otago, Dunedin. This secure facility is also looking at potential strategies to combat SARS-CoV-2, including antiviral agents and vaccines. “This extremely relevant and timely project is yet another example of the kind of multidisciplinary expertise we have in New Zealand. Together we hope to be able to find an efficient solution to a daunting problem, potentially even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic,” Professor Quiñones-Mateu said.

Dr Anderson says, “We are working closely with the university teams on how to do this safely, and thanks to the expertise of UV Solutionz, a New Zealand firm that specialises in UV disinfection, we are in a position to create a whole-of-PPE disinfection solution. We wanted to keep the process simple, rapidly implementable, mobile and easy to roll out anywhere in the country and further afield as necessary.”

Meanwhile, the team’s initial rapid review of the scientific literature has been published as a preprint, while undergoing full peer-review.

The project has been supported by $1.3m from MBIE’s Covid-19 Innovation Acceleration Fund and $46k from the MAS Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the organisation providing insurance and financial services to health professionals.

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