Southwest Research Institute is addressing the COVID-19 pandemic from several engineering and scientific disciplines. During stay-at-home operations, we continue to operate our organization while implementing measures to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, such as directing staff to work remotely and implementing guidelines to ensure social distancing for those working at our physical locations. Our responses range from researching emerging infectious diseases to offering solutions to mobilize manufacturing of biomedical devices and adjusting our community outreach initiatives. The following overview highlights some of the services and resources SwRI is using to respond to COVID-19.
Through our participation in the Vaccine Development Center of San Antonio (VDCOSA), we are working with local researchers at UTSA, Texas Biomedical Research Institute and UT Health San Antonio to collaborate on research and share COVID-19 insights.
We are also working with University Hospital, UT Health San Antonio and Christus Santa Rosa to look at ways to decontaminate and reuse N95 and surgical masks. We looked at gamma radiation for decontamination of different masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE). We are also looking at evaluating a fabricated mask from UHS that uses the filter material used in electret house filters. This testing will include evaluating whether the hydrogen peroxide sterilizer at UHS impacts the filtration efficiency as well as decontaminates the mask.
Additionally, Southwest Research Institute is working with Eaton, Whirlpool and Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall, Michigan, to quantify N95 mask efficiency using sanitation ovens by reviewing the filtration efficiency of heat treated N95 masks relative to new N95 masks. SwRI will be performing this work in our ISO 17025 A2LA accredited Particle Science & Technology Laboratory.
Biothreats & Pharmaceuticals
Soon after news broke of the outbreak of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China, our pharmaceutical development and microbiology experts began working with the scientific and medical communities in San Antonio and across the U.S. to gain scientific insights into the disease. After a 3D image of the virus protein was made available to the scientific community, our Pharmaceutical Development Department began virtually screening millions of drug compounds with Rhodium software to find potential treatments. This computer-aided screening is accelerating laboratory drug discovery and development through collaborative research, including use of U.S. Department of Defense supercomputers.
Conducting real-time efficacy and safety evaluations with Rhodium, our researchers are enabling collaborators across the country that are conducting laboratory cellular level tests to evaluate the toxicity of potential drug compounds prior to testing in viral samples.
Biomedical Devices & Medical Equipment
We are writing proposals for our internal research program to explore how to create locally sourced ventilators/respirators and investigating using Additive Manufacturing/3D printing technology to produce full face protective masks. Our Biomedical & Health engineers are preparing to provide manufacturing assistance for medical protective masks and other medical devices.
SwRI’s Particle Science and Technology Laboratory is performing N95 and KN95 surgical mask testing, ensuring that this vital personal protective equipment meets particle filtration standards. The testing is currently offered at a reduced price to allow wide accessibility for health care, commercial and government clients who want to quickly evaluate mask samples.
Our Manufacturing Technologies Department and the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center South-Central Region are working with the San Antonio Manufacturing Association, helping local companies retool to produce personal protection equipment (PPE) that is in short supply, including shields for the University Health System in San Antonio. We are helping a local manufacturer augment throughput for production of disinfecting robots and supporting how to address the ventilator shortage by producing consumables and spare parts for the systems. TMAC is also supporting the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association, helping them disseminate vital information and guidance.
Visit Medical Manufacturing Alliance of South Central Texas to learn how SwRI has joined regional stakeholders to help align healthcare facility needs with locally manufactured medical supplies required to respond more effectively in the moment.
We also offer online training via webinars to enhance social distancing and provide professional learning services while industry and government clients are unable to work in laboratories and factories. Find training courses here:
With evidence that COVID-19 patients may lose their sense of smell, we are investigating how olfaction detection kits we are currently developing for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) applications could be used.
SwRI participates in several Community and volunteer initiatives in support of organizations such as Meals on Wheels, United Way, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Children’s Bereavement Center, among others. We are adjusting how we participate in these initiatives, while some staff continue to volunteer when possible to provide critical services.