Staff from the University of Southampton’s Medicine and Chemistry departments have been working around the clock to produce supplies of vital solutions used to ensure facemasks for healthcare workers are fitted safely.
The COVID-19 pandemic is creating an unprecedented demand for facemasks as part of the personal protective equipment for staff working on the frontline in hospitals and throughout the healthcare sector; this demand also extends to the solutions needed to test them.
Each FFP3 facemask used on the wards needs to be adjusted individually to the wearer’s face; the seal of each mask then needs to be checked by spraying a flavoured solution around it. If the wearer can taste the flavour whilst performing certain exercises (e.g., talking or bending to mimic the action of retrieving items), then the mask is not fitted correctly as droplets must have penetrated the seal.
In order to make sure their colleagues in local hospitals have enough testing solutions to keep up with demand, chemistry and medicine teams at the University came together in the university labs and in just over a week have produced the first batches of the bitter and sweet tasting solutions.
Professor Gill Reid, Head of Chemistry at the University of Southampton said “In the past week, our labs have transformed from teaching and research facilities to a full-scale production, testing and distribution facility. The team have carried out every phase of the process from bringing in the raw materials and equipment we need, making up batches of the solutions, sterilising, bottling, rigorous quality testing and labelling, then finally packing and distributing.”
“Our colleagues on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic are doing amazing work and we are keen to do our bit to help them stay healthy and keep caring for the people who need their support.”
The team are now looking at options that are available to scale-up the amount of solution they are able to produce in their labs, and with the University Hospital Southampton are talking to local hospitals to establish their requirements and distribution logistics.
They have also produced standard operating procedures for the production and testing of both solutions, and these will be made accessible open-source next week so that institutions around the country will have the information they need to step in to make sure enough supplies can be produced nationally.
Delphine Boche (Professor of Neuroimmunopathology, CES)
Paul Elkington (Professor of Respiratory Medicine, CES)
David Johnston (Light Microscopy Manager, Biomedical Imaging Unit)
Kay Le Marechal (Purchasing Department)
Tony Fay and Angela Nemeth (Procurement Team)
Regina Teo (Laboratory Manager, CES)
Matthias Baud (Lecturer in Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology)
Guy Denuault (Associate Professor in Electrochemistry)
Steve Goldup (Professor of Chemistry and Royal Society Wolfson Fellow)
Julie Herniman (Senior Experimental Officer in Mass Spectrometry)
Peter Johnson (PhD student, Molecular Biophotonics and Imaging)
John Langley (Professorial Fellow (Enterprise), Head of Characterisation and Analytics)
Sumeet Mahajan (Professor of Molecular Biophotonics & Imaging, Associate Director, Institute for Life Sciences)
Giuseppe Pileio (Lecturer in Physical Chemistry)
Andrea Russell (Professor of Physical Electrochemistry)
Thomas Sutton (Experimental Officer in Mass Spectrometry, Characterisation and Analytics)
Molly Wilson (PhD student, Characterisation and Analytics)
Companies (provided materials free of charge, dramatically shortened delivery times, essential technical support)
Macfarlan Smith Limited
Scientific Laboratory Supplies
Sensient Flavors Europe