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Doctors at Magee developed potential ‘game-changer’ in COVID-19 fight

PITTSBURGH — Doctors at UPMC are making headlines for designing equipment to protect patients and healthcare workers during critical moments of care.

Two physicians at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital said their new prototype could be a game-changer in the fight against COVID-19.

“Are we doing enough?” Dr. Jason Chang, Associate Chief of Emergency Medicine at UPMC Magee, remembered asking himself earlier this year. “Having this added layer of protection is always a benefit for our healthcare workers.”

Chang is part of the research team that invented the Individual Biocontainment Unit or IBU. He said it’s crucial for protecting everyone in the room during a patient’s intubation.

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“When we access the oral pharynx and put any kind of devices in there, it increases a chance for any viral particles to be ejected,” Chang said.

When the pandemic started in March, Chang said hospitals were using equipment designed in China, that was like an IBU. It surrounded the patient’s head in a plexiglass box. The Food and Drug Administration realized the virus was still escaping, so the agency revoked its emergency use authorization.

“We realized that we needed to do something better,” said Chang. “Because it was giving that false sense of security.”

That’s when Chang and his colleague, Dr. David Turer, took the box a step further and attached a negative pressure vacuum.

Channel 11 Morning News Anchor Katherine Amenta was invited into the emergency room for a demonstration. Amenta watched smoke get pumped into the unit to simulate virus particles. It turned clear when the vacuum was turned on. That’s when Chang opened the door to safely intubate.

“With the filter factored in there, we were capturing 99.99% of all particles,” Chang said.

Chang said he and Turer are in the process of getting FDA approval and are eager to share their invention with the rest of the country.

“We had the opportunity to do something really grand and really help the situation and we definitely need the support of a system like UPMC,” Change said.

UPMC said the IBU could also be used when a hospital is short on isolation rooms or if someone needs to be isolated on a military ship. The team is working with the Army’s research lab and FDA approval is about 90% complete.

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