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UW Medicine Researchers Collaborate to 3D Print PPE Supplies

Dr. Robert M. Sweet

What do you get when you take a research lab, a crowdsourced design and a whole lot of 3D printers? In the case of the current COVID-19 pandemic, you get essential face shields to protect front-line workers — and a stirring display of team spirit.

In early March, when the number of COVID-19 cases in the Seattle area began to rise, there was concern that there wasn’t enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to cover a ramped-up response effort. UW Medicine’s front-line workers needed masks, face shields, gloves and gowns in order to interact with patients at hospitals, clinics and drive-thru testing sites.

Enter the Center for Research in Education and Simulation Technologies (CREST), located at UW Medical Center – Montlake. The team at CREST normally creates surgical simulators for medical students and doctors to use when practicing new procedures, but when they heard about the concerns with PPE supplies, they didn’t hesitate to put their equipment and know-how to work.

“We’re in a unique position since we already prototype and manufacture parts in our lab, which is connected to a hospital in one of the cities that saw an early rise in confirmed cases,” says Jason Speich, CREST’s artificial tissue lab director. “Our ability to work collaboratively across the campus was an opportunity that quickly felt like a responsibility.”

With that responsibility in mind, CREST’s director Robert Sweet, MD, organized a cross-campus group of researchers from Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Global Innovation Exchange and others. The team included Dmitry Levin, associate director for the Center for Cardiovascular Innovation (CCVI) and a key driver in the project’s success; Beth Ripley, MD, director of the Veterans Health Administration 3D Printing Network; Speich and his CREST colleague DJ Traina, among others. Together, they tested and documented the feasibility, safety, comfort, fit and strength of publicly available PPE designs. MORE