Ebola Watch: Inventions take on challenges of fighting virus

All the attention paid to the shortfalls of personal protective equipment (PPE) used for treating Ebola patients may have paid off, as some of the country's best medical minds have designed a safer, sleeker and less cumbersome suit, according to The Washington Post.

The new suit--the brainchild of a team from Johns Hopkins University's Center for Bioengineering Innovation & Design--is among the winners in a global competition launched in October by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) called "Fighting Ebola: a Grand Challenge for Development," according to a statement on the USAID website.

The main advantages of the new PPE suit are simply that it's more comfortable to wear and easier to take off, the Post reports. In addition to a battery-powered fan to cool off the wearer, the new design features a hood that's attached to the suit and a zipper with pull tabs on the back of the suit that allows it to be unzipped easily--an improvement from the standard suits, which can be difficult to remove and leave room for contamination in the process.

In addition to the suit designed by Johns Hopkins, two other infection-control innovations were targeted by the competition for financial investment and testing: an antiseptic applied to the skin that can function as an anti-microbial barrier for up to six hours, and a long-lasting spray that creates an electrostatic field to prevent surface contamination on PPE, according to the USAID statement.

The Johns Hopkins team members hope the new suit design could be ready for use in a few months if major manufacturers sign on to produce them, they told the Post. One challenge, though, may be that demand for the current suits is already outpacing supply--thanks in large part to U.S. hospitals' scrambling to comply with the government's Ebola-related protocols, FierceHealthcare previously reported.  

The Johns Hopkins team isn't the only group of experts convening to take on Ebola. The "Stop Ebola Hack-a-thon" convened in Boston this past weekend, drawing scientists, healthcare workers and entrepreneurs to brainstorm ways to improve the response to the virus, the Boston Globe reported. From the teams' submissions, a panel of global health experts chose their two favorites: RESCUE, a quick-deploying containment unit designed for rural areas; and ProxiME, a wristband that monitors a patient's temperature and heart rate and sends alerts to healthcare workers.

In other news, an editorial in the American Journal of Transplantation (AJT) argues that asking simple screening questions of organ donors--rather than investing in laboratory-based testing--is the best way to ensure the organ supply is safe from infectious diseases like Ebola without majorly affecting the donor supply.

Daniel Kaul, M.D., director of the transplant infectious disease division at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and the chairman of the United Network for Organ Sharing's Disease Transmission Advisory Committee, advises in the editorial that there be a 21-day exclusionary period for anyone who traveled to the West African countries where Ebola is active as well as any healthcare worker who could have been exposed to the virus. In other words, people who may have had a chance to contract Ebloa should not be allowed to donate an organ for three weeks.

"Thousands of people die in the United States each year waiting for an organ transplant, and we think it is very important not to overreact to the very low risk that a potential donor might have Ebola virus, and, as a consequence, unnecessarily discard potentially life-saving organs," wrote Kaul.

To learn more:
- read the Post article
- see the USAID statement
- read the Boston Globe article
- check out the AJT editorial