A Williams Lake physician is collaborating with a Vancouver-based non-profit organization to develop a helmet-based ventilation system for patients with COVID-19.
Dr. Ivan Scrooby said the group — COSMIC Medical — came together to develop devices to treat patients with the virus and the bubble helmet was one of the ideas they came up with.
“The concept is not widely accepted as a form of treatment yet, and is used more so in Europe than in North America,” Scrooby said.
Other clinical support for the group has come from Dr. Chris Nguan at Vancouver General Hospital, Dr. Neilson J. Mclean at Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre and Dr. Avinash K. Sinha from Montreal, Scrooby said.
Vionarica Gusti, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, said when news about the pandemic first emerged from Italy, showing patients in hospital hallways being managed with bubble helmets, she and some other people wondered if something similar could be made in B.C.
They began experimenting with a 3D printer and rallying around the community to see who could help them.
Describing the bubble helmet as a simple concept, Gusti said multiple patients can be helped and supported at the same time while minimizing the aerosol particles that the patients exude with COVID-19.
In pandemic situations where there is limited critical care resources, the technology they’ve come up with could be very valuable, she added.
Through the 3D design the group realized the helmet was uncomfortable because it had a rigid ring that goes around the neck.
“We want patients to be able to lay down and sleep comfortably,” Gusti explained.
She reached out to someone in Smithers, B.C. who specializes in developing inflatable rafts that helped as well as SEI Industries in Delta, B.C. for help in developing the hood.
Several volunteers stepped up including medical students, doctors and engineers to help with the project.
Now the group wants to make more helmets, test them and generate solid data to see if the design is feasible.
Because everything is soft and very easy to package, the helmets would not take up much room to store in a hospital and then be connected to wall oxygen units when needed.
“Now we have to finalize the design and continue on to using the device in a clinical trial and we have Health Canada approval now to proceed to a clinical trial,” Scrooby said, adding they still need ethics approval from health authorities where they plan to do the human trials.
Gusti wore it for two hours and found it comfortable, she said, adding if it does eventually go to market it will be the first open-source, community-driven product.
It doesn’t have a patent-right on it and Scrooby said if a company gets involved it won’t have the sole right to sell the product.
COSMIC is an open source group, he noted, adding the idea was to create devices that would be available to anyone in the world to treat COVID-19 with.
“It is a little harder to get funding and we are trying to manufacture a device that currently isn’t available in North America and isn’t widely used by physicians.”
Gusti was in Williams Lake in December doing a residency with Scrooby, and that was the first time she and he met in person.
Philip Edgcumbe, a Vancouver-based diagnostic radiology resident, has been with COSMIC since its inception after being invited by Dr. Chris Nguan of Vancouver General Hospital to participate.
“Chris thought it would be best to see if we could engineer, design, build equipment locally to prevent us from running out if the COVID wave was really bad and we ended up with lots of patients in the hospital,” said Edgcumbe, who along with Alexander Waslen and Nguan co-founded COSMIC.
They put out invitations through social media to ask others to join and as it was a ‘unique time’ with lots of people sheltering at home, not able to do the work they would normally do, they were keen to focus on the COVID-19 response.
“At our peak we probably had 100 to 150 active contributors, so we had lots of different projects on the go, including a ventilator and the bubble helmet.”
While he wasn’t involved with the creation side of equipment, Edgcumbe focused on ways for 100 strangers to collaborate in a productive way.
Several teams were formed and they communicated through virtual platforms.
“We drew clinicians from across Canada who would give Dragons Den-style feedback to the team leads to help them iterate and improve.”
The group received some generous donations from individuals which enabled the purchase of some supplies for prototyping and Edgcumbe noted in total they raised about $40,000 and are hoping to gather more funds.
“Work continues and we are stretching those dollars as far as possible.”
Valuing Scrooby’s involvement with the collaboration, he said it allows the group to understand the clinical needs beyond the kind of big centres that most of them are working in.
“The story remains to be written to see the product in action, but I think potentially it will be most useful in rural or medium sized communities and we really would have only had that perspective through the work we’ve done with Dr. Scrooby and insights into the needs of a community like Williams Lake.”
He said it’s been a ‘great’ example of how there can be learning going in both directions from big cities and smaller communities.
Describing Scrooby as having a ‘can-do’ attitude, who has to make it work based on the resources available, Edgcumbe said he did a third year rural medicine residency with Dr. Scrooby in Williams Lake in 2018.
Edgcumbe was given the task by Scrooby of reading In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Dr. Gabor Maté, that examines the nature of addiction.
“He lent me a dog-eared copy of the book that he gives to all the medical students he works with and then at the end he encourages everyone to write a little note inside the front of the book.”
Edgcumbe said his experience with Dr. Scrooby continues to inform his own practice in medicine down at St. Paul’s Hospital where staff deals with addictions all the time.