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With 3D Design Know-How, This Neurologist Is Working to Produce Face Shields, Gowns, Sanitizers for COVID-19

Editorial Note: Neurology Today is featuring AAN members who have spearheaded innovative products or services to address the challenges of COVID-19. If you or a colleague have a story to tell about a resourceful solution to a COVID-19 related problem, please contact Orly Avitzur, MD, MBA, FAAN, at http://www.dravitzur.com/contact.

New Orleans has one of the highest number of novel coronavirus deaths per capita in the nation, according to The Data Center. It is also where you will find Ochsner Health's Korak Sarkar, MD, who has channeled his focus to address shortages and challenges created by the COVID-19 crisis. Having completed a post-doctoral fellowship in biodesign at Northwestern University, he joined the Ochsner Neurosciences Institute in 2015 and innovation Ochsner (iO) in 2018. Dr. Sarkar is also a staff neurologist at the New Orleans Veteran Affairs Hospital and adjunct professor in the Tulane department of biomedical engineering.

What inspired you to address the PPE shortage?

The dramatic impact of COVID-19 on New Orleans, and the resultant needs, have forced our region to address this pandemic with ingenuity and resourcefulness. Our personal protective equipment (PPE) task force at Ochsner Health consists of a multidisciplinary effort between iO, supply chain, project management, academics, environmental services, and multiple clinical departments. We are leveraging the Oschner Neurosciences medical 3D (m3D) lab's engineering and manufacturing expertise in combination with existing local materials and fabrication resources to help address the PPE need. The evolution of my work in 3D printing sensitized me to our local ecosystem's advanced manufacturing resources, which have become integral to our initiative to create PPE.

How did you get started?

Our process begins with our clinical teams and supply chain partners helping me assess and validate needs. We deploy additive manufacturing—usually referred to as 3D printing—and our in-house textiles expert, to create a prototype, integrate clinical feedback, and quickly crystalize design. Once design is finalized, we leverage regional resources to scale production. We work with our infection control and supply-chain team members to develop formal approaches to quality control and quality assurance.

What have you accomplished?

Our scaled manufacturing resources focus on relatively simple goods that are available locally at most metropolitan hubs. Using our region's available fabrication resources, we have manufactured over 30,000 face shields with the support of local businesses such as Scale Workspace, an innovation hub, and Good Wood, a design and fabrication firm. We have delivered our shields to multiple departments and hospitals throughout our system. We also developed a disinfection process that leverages an ultraviolet light-based approach which was approved by our infection control task force, minimizes the use of other resources that may be in short supply (for example, disinfection wipes), and is compatible with the materials we have sourced to create this equipment. We are working with local fashion and textile resources such as Shake Your Bon Bon and Nola Couture to produce barrier gowns. 

To date, we have delivered 7,000 gowns and are producing nearly 1,000 gowns a day by activating a local seamstress network. We expect this capability to grow further. The supply chain and infection control teams have provided their expertise and resources to ensure consistent disinfection, distribution, collection, laundering and redistribution. 

Finally, we are working with local distilleries PorchJam and Big Easy Blends to produce hand sanitizers. Thus far they have delivered 3,800 liters. This work not only supports front-line providers in their efforts to care for our community, but local businesses, who also face an uncertain future during this pandemic.

What are the benefits of your designs?

These are not D-I-Y projects. We are working fast, but diligently and professionally, to ensure that we are providing quality, effective, and safe equipment to our front-line providers. This initiative has taken less than four weeks. It is a testimony to the ingenuity, flexibility, and collaborative nature of our clinicians, non-clinical support staff, administrators, leaders and community. 

What has been your role with this project?

I serve as the clinical liaison for the all the various individuals, task forces, and companies involved in our PPE initiative. I identify and help validate clinical needs as well as communicate these needs to engineers, administrators, fabricators, business owners, and hospital leadership.  In this role, I often serve as an interpreter, translating needs and feedback between the different stakeholders. To engineers, I describe the clinical background and use cases, while explaining to clinicians the capabilities and feasibility of potential solutions to their COVID-19 needs, and relaying the regulatory and compliance guidances to which we must adhere to both parties.

What regulatory standards must be met?

We work very closely with our legal department, infection control, and supply-chain teams to monitor and adhere to all appropriate guidances, particularly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and US Food and Drug Administration. We develop, validate, and audit workflows and operating procedures to ensure that the appropriate standards are being met for assembly, disinfection, and distribution of our goods. We are working fast but diligently and professionally to assure that we are providing quality, effective, and safe equipment to our front-line providers. The last thing we want to do is put patients or our front lines at increased risk during this crisis.

What do you do when you are not working on manufacturing solutions in health care?

I split my time between clinical activities and running our lab. I am a traumatic brain injury (TBI) specialist and care for civilians and veterans with TBI. My time in the lab is focused on validating the efficacy of 3D printing, virtual reality, and augmented reality as tools in patient education, medical training, and clinical care delivery. Outside of work, my wife and I have 2-year-old twin boys who are joyfully oblivious to COVID-19 and keep us entertained and exhausted. 

I have been active at the AAN since I joined as a PGY-2 resident in 2009.  I participated in Neurology on the Hill (during residency and was selected for the Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum (PALF) in 2012.  I have since participated in several more NOH visits and served as a PALF advisor for two subsequent classes. I was a member of the 2017-2018 emerging leaders program and I am a current member of the Health Policy Subcommittee.  AAN's advocacy training and its indispensable support nurtured and crystalized my interest in the confluence of neurology, research and innovation.