RESEARCH

University of East Anglia launches project to 3D print crucial medical supplies

SOURCE: Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP
The University of East Anglia is looking into ways to work with industry partners to help replenish the supply of crucial medical equipment.


By U2B Staff 

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The University of East Anglia is planning on collaborating with healthcare providers, innovators and tech companies in its project to 3D print ventilator parts, masks and other critical health equipment to support the fight against COVID-19. 

The project is the university’s response to the global shortage of health supplies and equipment that are becoming especially limited for healthcare providers on the front-line. 

UEA researchers are working with the tech community to gain access to 3D printers as well as skilled experts to work at pace to design and make the equipment to replenish supplies. Active collaborative exchange is also happening with healthcare providers to better understand their needs. 

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The university hopes to expand this initiative and mobilise similar projects at other universities nationally and globally. 

“It is absolutely vital that universities join forces with healthcare providers and businesses to find creative solutions to fight Covid-19,” said UEA’s School of Pharmacy Project Lead Dr Aram Saeed. 

“We need disruptive technology to expedite the process of designing and developing key ventilator parts, and we hope to connect with other universities and expertise around the globe.

“It’s still very early days for this project, but the response so far has been amazing. It is very much a steep learning curve, but we have a fantastic team of researchers and PhD students working on this, and we will be using our academic networks to help solve the problem,” he added. 

“We are in an unprecedented time in modern history and in facing such an unprecedented challenge, we need to respond with an unprecedented response, collaboration and effort,” said UES’s School of Biological Sciences Professor Ben Garrod who is also involved with this collaborative effort. 

“In the days, weeks and months ahead, our amazing NHS and its frontline staff are going to need all the help they can get and universities are in a very fortunate position in having the people, expertise and technology to be able to assist. 

“The work being done here at UEA and across the Norwich Research Park will help provide supplies and equipment at a local and national level, but we need help. We need help from businesses, other universities, individuals and so many others right now and already the response has been amazing. Printing off ventilator components, specialist masks and other equipment will, I’m sure, help those frontline NHS staff save lives across the country in the time ahead.”

Healthcare Providers
The university is now looking for 3D printing experts to contribute to the project. Source: Desiree Martin/AFP.

Among potential industry partners, the research team are looking to collaborate with software experts, particularly Solidworks to provide their CAD design expertise. They are also looking to collaborate with those trained in 3D scanners and conversion of files to STIL files (printable versions)

The research team are also looking for printers, specifically Fused Deposition Modeling (FMD), that uses thermoplastic filaments, brands Makerbot of similar, and SLA types printers which use liquid resins. 

As of now, the team is currently collaborating with local tech community SyncNorwich and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to kickstart the project. 

The scope of the project may involve re-purposing or reconfiguring existing ventilators, rapidly developing new ventilators and producing other essential medical supplies such as PEEP valves and face shields.  

“Right now we need help with software, hardware, medical product design, and product testing. We may also need support from engineering sectors for flow sensors, pneumatic units and data processing monitors,” said Dr Saeed.

This project is only a portion of UEA’s overall plans to assist the curbing of the COVID-19 pandemic and provide support to medical front-liners. 

Other projects involve a portable coronavirus kit developed by Dr Justin O’Grady from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, and the manufacturing of hand sanitiser gel at UEA’s New Science Building that is already being distributed to the NHS in Norfolk and beyond. 

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“We have been working with hospitals and trusts across the region. Those relationships have never been so important as we have released academic clinicians to support the NHS, worked closely to understand the medical needs that COVID-19 raises and then mobilised teams from across the university, Norwich Research Park and beyond to work on solutions,” said Mark Hitchcock from UEA Health and Social Care Partners.

After the initial task of quickly moving a university to remote working, learning and teaching, and postponing all but essential research within laboratories, the amazing research and innovation community at UEA has turned its skills and expertise, to help us face this challenge and crisis,” added UEA’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation Professor Fiona Lettice. 

“We have leveraged our academic and business partnerships to work together tirelessly this weekend to help our NHS colleagues and the patients they will need to treat. There is much still to be done, but we are committed to do all we can to help.”