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Aerosol boxes created to protect clinicians from COVID-19



FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Aerosol boxes, as reported April 3 in the New England Journal of Medicine, have emerged organically as an innovative solution to protect clinicians from exposure during the critical procedure of intubating patients with COVID-19.

To address this problem locally, Morten Jensen, associate professor of biomedical engineering, has partnered with Dr. Drew Rodgers, cardiothoracic anesthesiologist at Washington Regional Medical Center, to produce transparent acrylic boxes that clinicians can place over a patient’s head and neck while intubating, which is the process of inserting a tube through a patient’s mouth and into the airway leading to the lungs. Intubation is done so a patient can be placed on a ventilator to assist with breathing.

In addition to an opening for the patient’s head, aerosol boxes have portals through which clinicians can extend their arms to work on the patient. The boxes provide an extra layer of protection in addition to personal protective equipment used during procedures such as mask ventilation and endotracheal intubation. Aerosol boxes can be quickly sterilized with bleach or alcohol after each use, so they can be reused.

The team expects to produce 25 boxes for Washington Regional and then looks toward working with other hospitals to address their needs for potential COVID-19 patients.

“This is a clear example of how the intersection of medicine and engineering can quickly come together and help us save lives,” Dr. Rodgers said.

Dr. Rodgers contacted Jensen because he knew members of the Cardiovascular Biomechanics Laboratory had extensive experience with making clear, acrylic boxes for holding fluids. After making small design improvements to fit requirements from Washington Regional, Jensen’s team partnered with the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. Dean Peter MacKeith provided access to machinery and materials that could significantly increase production. The first aerosol box was ready days after Jensen and Rodgers first discussed the concept and partnership.

“These boxes are not for sale anywhere, and we work with these materials and designs all the time,” Jensen said. “There’s an immediate need to protect staff during these critical, lifesaving procedures. We can make these right away, and they can put them to use immediately.”

The machining and manufacturing of the first aerosol boxes were performed by Angela Carpenter in the Fay Jones School and Sam Stephens in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

“This is a great example of what we can do for our community,” said Raj Rao, professor and head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Rao, Jensen, MacKeith and others are helping the university work on other critical COVID-19-related projects with hospitals in Arkansas.

Jensen is an Arkansas Research Alliance Scholar. Rao is the George M. and Boyce W. Billingsley Endowed Chair in Engineering.