Singapore, 31 August 2020 – When a pandemic hits and negative pressure isolation rooms fill up rapidly, hospitals will have to explore other options to admit and care for patients with infectious diseases. These may include housing them in normal single rooms, or building a temporary isolation facility which takes time, and can be costly.
To address the problem, a team of anaesthesiologists from the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) worked with local biomedical incubator, The Biofactory, to create a System of Portable AnteRoom for Containment, or SG-SPARC, in short. It is a plug-and-play, portable and collapsible negative pressure anteroom system that allows hospitals to transform patient room into negative pressure isolation rooms in just an hour. No renovation is required. Each unit measures 1.2m (length) x 1.55m (width) x 2.4m (height) and weighs 70kg. The size is customisable, and takes about 2 weeks to fabricate.
“We have seen how hospitals overseas struggled when they ran out of negative pressure isolation rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic. It got us thinking if there is a way for us to very quickly and temporarily convert existing patient rooms, especially intensive care unit (ICU) rooms, to care for infectious patients when the need arise. With SG-SPARC, we not only save cost from avoiding the need to build any permanent structure, we also protect our healthcare workers from possible infection risk as the ward corridor is kept clean,” said Dr Mavis Teo, Consultant, Department of Anaesthesiology, SGH, who is a co-investigator of the project.
The process of converting a room is as simple as fitting the huge rectangular transparent box-like SG-SPARC at the entrance, sealing any gaps in between, and powering up a fan filter unit with HEPA filtration at the top to maintain negative pressure and air flow in one direction towards the patient room. This prevents contaminated air inside the room from flowing into the ward corridor. A unit has been installed at SGH’s Medical ICU in July 2020 and one more will be added soon.
The team has also developed another model for operating theatre (OT) room so that surgeries including aerosol-generating procedures can be performed on infected or suspected patients in the OT while protecting healthcare workers outside the OT room. This model is bigger and its anteroom is large enough to fit a standard ICU bed, various medical equipment like an ICU ventilator, and healthcare workers at the same time. It weighs 150kg, measures 3.78m (length) x 1.6m (width) x 2m (height), and has a two-hour set-up time.
“We knew from our earliest discussions with the SGH team that SG-SPARC would be an exciting and important technology to design and deploy in hospitals, particularly now amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. With this in mind, we designed the technology for mass production with a special emphasis on rapid deployment, reliability and user-friendliness. Installation is fuss-free and can be done quickly and simply – anywhere in the world. We have received strong interest from local and overseas buyers, and we are ready to meet the global demand for SG-SPARC,” said Mr Gabriel Tan, Programme Director, The Biofactory.
The A*STAR Institute of Bioengineering & Nanotechnology (IBN) evaluated the virus containment capabilities of SG-SPARC. The procedure was conducted under conditions similar to a real-time hospital environment, by releasing live non-pathogenic viruses into a simulated ICU room or OT installed with SG-SPARC to determine if any virus “escaped” into the corridor, but none was found.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time that such portable anteroom models were tested using live non-pathogenic viruses in Singapore. This method allows for more accurate testing compared to conventional methods, as it facilitates measurement of how many live virus particles are present, ” said Professor Yang Yi Yan, Covering Executive Director, IBN, A*STAR.
SG-SPARC is an innovation research project funded by SingHealth Duke-NUS’s Urgent COVID-19 Research Fund, with in-kind contribution from The Biofactory. It marks The Biofactory’s third collaboration with SGH. The other two projects were SG-SAFE, a foldable swab screen system, as well as SG-SAFER, an isolation x-ray booth.
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