UV light, 3D printed face masks: federal government announces $10m for coronavirus-related medical trials

Ultraviolet light to treat air in aged care facilities and custom 3D printed designs to improve face mask efficiency for healthcare workers are just some of the technologies being trialled.

A nurse checks on a coronavirus patient.

A nurse checks on a coronavirus patient. Source: Sipa USA Patricio Murphy / SOPA Images/Si

The federal government has announced $10 million for clinical trials of some coronavirus-related technologies that if successful may reduce the infection risk for workers in healthcare and aged care settings.

The use of ultraviolet light as an air treatment strategy in aged care facilities and the trial of custom 3D printed interfaces to improve the efficacy of face masks for healthcare workers are among the innovative projects being funded.

"Each of these extremely promising Australian innovations has the potential to dramatically shift the global battle against COVID-19, which will begin clinical trials from early 2021," Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a press release. 

"The clinical trials announced today are based in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. They will deliver high quality evidence that can be rapidly translated for use in this pandemic, and possibly, future pandemics." 

Some of the funding will also go towards the mid-2021 trial of "next generation" vaccines, which offer advantages over so-called "first generation" vaccines, such as not requiring ultra-cold storage like the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

The trials will not impact the initial rollout of the first coronavirus vaccines, which is due to begin in March.

Eliminating mask leakage

Associate Professor Anand Ganesan from Flinders University, who received almost $1 million to fund a trial of the facility's 3D printed facemask interface technology, said his research addressed a real need and an issue in the healthcare profession.

“Healthcare works are at least 11 times more likely to get covid than the rest of the community and at least some of that excess risk is due to the leak of currently available protective technology,” Prof Ganesan told SBS News.

He said data available from hospital "fit tests" of masks worn by healthcare workers showed up to 20 or 30 per cent of standard P2 of N95 masks leaked and did not meet the standard required, due to the unique bone structure of various faces.

“We have developed an interface that sits between the mask and the person's face and we developed a 3D printed component that is independently fitted and we have pilot data that that can eliminate leakage,” Prof Ganesan said.

Other research funded by the government by the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute will examine whether a strategy of using germicidal ultraviolet lights to sterilise the air in aged care settings can reduce the transmission of the infection.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your jurisdiction's restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

Please check the relevant guidelines for your state or territory: NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory, ACT, Tasmania

Published 3 January 2021 at 6:13pm, updated 3 January 2021 at 6:43pm
By Jarni Blakkarly