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Researchers from the University of Michigan developed a helmet-like device that they say will benefit hospitals by sparing ventilators and protecting coronavirus health care workers.

Within hospitals, patients with contagious diseases are often treated in negative pressure rooms. These rooms are designed to contain airborne contaminants like the coronavirus. With hospital systems across the country overwhelmed by coronavirus patients, access to negative pressure rooms is limited.

The helmet researchers designed mimics the conditions of a negative pressure room, and preliminary data shows that it filters contaminated air even more efficiently. The helmet would be worn by the patient being treated for COVID-19, and it works like a personalized negative pressure room for the patient in the hospital bed.

Besides filtering the air exhaled by an infected patient — therefore protecting healthcare workers — the device also delivers oxygen to the wearer's mouth and nose. Similar respiratory treatments can spread virus particles into the air and expose caregivers.

"Some hospitals have avoided those therapies and put patients on ventilators early," Benjamin Bassin, one of the team members leading the project, said in the press release on the project.

Bassin, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Michigan Medicine, said that the helmet could help less critical patients breathe, and therefore free up ventilators for the severely ill.

The device's design was inspired by astronaut helmets. The research team built it using mostly commercially-available parts, and early prototypes used store-bought vacuum cleaner motors, according to the press release. The helmet has a retractable face shield so that the wearer's mouth can be easily accessed for food and other essential needs, and it maintains its functionality even when the wearer is in motion.

The research team is currently seeking an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which would allow them to make the device widely available through the agency's expedited review process.

Besides FDA approval, additional refinement and testing is needed before it reaches hospitals, according to the press release.

Read more about the project.

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