PCH surgeon helping produce local Personal Protective Equipment

Headshot of Dr Jennifer Ha
August 11, 2021

ENT surgeon Dr Jenn Ha’s interest in biomedical engineering and her understanding of the uniqueness of facial structures has led her to join an inter-hospital multidisciplinary team that will help put innovative WA-designed and produced Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) through local quality and suitability tests.

The hope is that the ability to test prototypes locally will encourage and support WA manufacture of PPE equipment and strengthen the State’s supply security.

Based at Perth Children’s Hospital, she joined with the East Metropolitan Health Service’s Centre for Implant Technology and Retrieval Analysis (CITRA) team that won funding from the State Government’s Future Health Research and Innovation Fund, through the FHRI Focus Grants: COVID-19 Infrastructure program, to purchase advanced testing equipment for PPE and other medical devices.

To be used on face masks, gowns, face shields and goggles, the testing equipment will ensure innovative and current PPE – including when purchased from a new supplier - are verified to meet manufacturer claims and quality requirements.

The test equipment will determine the size of the particles prevented from passing through the PPE and quantify the ability to protect from blood splatter - simulating at the extreme a full arterial bleed in the operating theatre.

The two testing machines will also be made available to WA hospitals, universities, companies and innovators wishing to test and develop novel PPE for the Western Australian market and beyond. 

 “This project is very important for hospital staff who work in such close contact to patients during the coronavirus pandemic,” Dr Ha said. 

“It is good to know that we will have the ability and capability right here in WA to test and to encourage the manufacture of PPE locally so that we do not continue to depend on others.”
Headed by CITRA senior Bioengineer Dr David Morrison, the team’s work has the potential to provide important new insights into protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and challenges arising from the COVID-19 emergency. Other key team members are Bioengineers A/Prof Alan Kop and Ryan Collier.

“We need to be as prepared as we can be for whatever the future may hold”, said Dr Morrison.  

“Instead of having to send their first prototype off to the Eastern States or overseas to get tested, they will now be able to have the product tested in WA to ensure that it is going to be suitable and meet the necessary standards.  This will reduce both their development costs and their time-to-market, giving local manufacturing a boost.”

Dr Ha said she became involved in the PPE testing work after approaching CITRA at the start of the COVID pandemic to produce specialised ENT protective face shields and also a greater choice of PPE for staff finding it difficult to get an adequate seal with off-the-shelf products designed primarily for specific face shapes. 

Previously she has worked with CITRA on 3D printed models to test paediatric ENT surgical equipment and to produce specially designed CPAP masks.

Dr Morrison said at the start of the pandemic CITRA had begun work on producing clinician-specific or patient–specific PPE masks.

“Our goal is to use 3D face scanning to design individual masks for staff who need protection and Dr Ha was our initial model for this work,” he said. 

“It’s really important to have Dr Ha as part of this team and to have a multi-disciplinarian team. I cannot emphasise that enough.” 

“We see other organisations that develop devices with the best intentions and you put them in the hands of a clinician and it turns out not to be feasible or practical. You need to get clinical involvement and input upfront.”