Game-changing respirator bound for Murchison

By Spencer Fowler Steen

In a world first, new respirators that "capture and denature" COVID-19 making it safer to go about normal life could arrive in Murchison soon.

Murchison Medical Clinic practice manager Rachel Smith said she had been working with an American company, AirLock389, to bring the yet-to-be released respirators to Australia and New Zealand.

She said the reusable respirators would capture and denature nearly 100 per cent of pathogens including COVID-19, with the potential for them to be manufactured locally.

“The device has been submitted for Food and Drug Administration approval in the (United) States; we’re just waiting on them finishing up with the manufacturer in the States to get the production schedule and pricing sorted,” she said.

“It filters more than 99.99 per cent of pathogens including COVID-19, I’m not aware of any other respirator like that.

“Ideally, this is the kind of thing that in Australia and New Zealand, if everyone had one, you could go to work and school in conjunction with other personal protective equipment.

“Hopefully we will have the product pricing and production schedule by the end of the month, but it's hard to say how long it will take.”

Mrs Smith said the filtration technology was originally invented by an American physicist, Chris Cooper, for water filtration and purification onboard the International Space Station, as well as for protecting troops against chemical, nuclear and biological agents.

But when COVID-19 hit, he realised the technology could be adapted to assist with respirators.

“He spent weeks coming up with a design, and at the end of March, he did a presentation where people could learn about it,” Mrs Smith said.

“Now we’re on the search for the final design that we should have very soon, along with the production schedule and pricing.”

The respirator, known as the Airlock Reusable Anti-Viral Respirator for Personal Protection, or ‘airlock respirators’ for short, would have a filtration device that would be changed every 30 days — the respirator itself lasting longer, Mrs Smith said.

“It's about the same size as the N95 respirator and is injection-moulded so it seals on to your face, making it more comfortable and softer than other masks.”

When a virus is denatured, it loses its protein structure through the action of an external stress factor such as a strong acid, radiation or heat.

This causes its biological function to be eliminated or diminished.

Mrs Smith said when air travels through the airlock respirator’s filter, a naturally generated electrostatic field would attract and bind contaminants to the filter removing them from the air.

The electrostatic field would then open the lipid layer of the virus and deactivate the virus by “rendering its RNA inert” — effectively disabling its ability to function.

Although she was unable to give further details, Mrs Smith said more information about the technology would be available soon.

Mrs Smith said she was working with AirLock389 to source local Australian companies with the capability to work under licence — where a company with a technology patent trains another company how to make it.

“Once Airlock389 has more details regarding manufacturing in the States, I will know more about how long it will take for completed respirators to arrive in Australia,” she said.

In a list of Californian-based manufacturing companies being repurposed for COVID-19 compiled by California Manufacturing & Technology Association, AirLock389's supply chain was said to be "primed and ready".

The list stated with a four-week lead time, AirLock389 was ready to mass produce an average of 2000 square feet (186 square metres) which could be converted to about 9000 respirators a day.

“With larger orders AirLock389 will bring additional suppliers online to meet demand,” CMTA said in the list dated March 23.

Mrs Smith said the airlock respirators had been tested in Nelson Labs, a leading global provider of microbiological and analytical lab testing, to assess how effective the respirators were at filtering pathogens.

“Hopefully this is one of the innovations people are working towards around the world — it would be great to produce here,” she said.

“It would be reassuring to know we have a new tool to protect healthcare workers and all essential workers.

“It would reduce a lot of stress and anxiety for folks and hopefully could be one of the elements that would help us get back to regular functioning while being safe.

“It’s not the be-all and end-all, we still need to have all the other PPE, but we’re excited to have this as a new tool.”