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MIT, Brigham researchers say they’ve created a new mask that’s easier to sterilize

Researchers at MIT and the Brigham have developed a reusable silicone rubber mask with N95 filters.
Researchers at MIT and the Brigham have developed a reusable silicone rubber mask with N95 filters.Courtesy of the researchers

Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital say they have designed a new mask that can be sterilized and used many times to protect the wearer from inhaling coronavirus particles.

The mask is made of silicone rubber and includes one or two detachable N95 filters, but those filters require much less N95 material than a traditional N95 mask, the university said in a statement. Silicone rubber is used in baking sheets and a number of other products.

“With this design, the filters can be popped in and then thrown away after use, and you’re throwing away a lot less material than an N95 mask,” Adam Wentworth, a research engineer at Brigham and Women’s and a research affiliate at the Koch Institute, said in the statement. Wentworth was one of the lead authors of a study on the masks published in the British Medical Journal Open.

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The researchers sterilized the masks using different methods, including running them through an autoclave (steam sterilizer), putting them in an oven, and soaking them in bleach and in isopropyl alcohol. They found the silicone material was undamaged by sterilization, the university said.

The researchers are now working to improve their mask design, based on feedback from health care workers. They’re also working to establish a company to support scaled-up production and to seek approval from the US Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the university said

With coronavirus cases on the rise nationally again, health care workers are encountering shortages of masks, gowns, face shields and gloves — again, The Washington Post reported this week.

“One of the key things we recognized early on was that in order to help meet the demand, we needed to really restrict ourselves to methods that could scale,” said the paper’s senior author, Giovanni Traverso, an MIT assistant professor of mechanical engineering and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “We also wanted to maximize the reusability of the system, and we wanted systems that could be sterilized in many different ways.”

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Martin finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com