«Debiopharm-Inartis 2016 Challenge» won by EPFL-Empa Team
Prize for transparent medicinal face mask
Working together with a research team from the EPF Lausanne, Empa scientists Giuseppino Fortunato, Anne Géraldine Guex and René Rossi have been awarded the «Debiopharm-Inartis Challenge» 2016 prize for their «Hello Mask» project. The prize is awarded jointly by the Debiopharm Group and the Inartis Foundation to an innovative project in the human health field which assists in making the lives of patients easier.
The «Hello Mask» project, carried out by an interdisciplinary team led by EPFL researcher Sacha Sidjanski, had the aim of making a transparent respirator mask for medical staff which would allow better communication between medical staff and patients. The masks currently used for this purpose conceal facial expressions, making interacting with patients difficult, not just those in hospital but also particularly when dealing with children and the elderly.
The trigger for the innovation was provided by Diane Baatard, who, on behalf of the «Au Fil de la Parole» Association visits children suffering from cancer in the University Hospital Geneva to cheer them up by telling them stories. She had noticed repeatedly that sick children often found it difficult to recognise the personnel treating them or to correctly identify their facial expressions. She therefore began looking for a transparent facemask which would allow not just the medical staff, but also the parents and families of the children, to better communicate with the young patients.
The transparent mask had to meet the requirements of the relevant European standard for medical applications as well as protecting both patients and staff from bacteria and viruses. To achieve this, scientists from the Empa «Protection and Physiology» and «Biointerfaces» laboratories – Giuseppino Fortunato, Anne Géraldine Guex and Oliver Wipf – first had to develop a functional permeable membrane which “breathed”. This membrane could not affect the user’s breathing in any way and had to reliably protect the wearer from air-borne droplets, viruses and bacteria. EPFL researchers Thierry Pelet and Klaus Schönenberger are now getting to grips with the process of industrial scale production of the membranes, as well as dealing with the applicable regulatory measures.
The prize money of CHF 12,500 Franken represents a welcome financial boost to the project and will allow the researchers to carry out a feasibility study. In parallel to this activity they are, however, continuing to actively seek additional financial support and new business partners.