BTB Case Study: Pioneering Australian technology is keeping hospitals COVID-safe

Photo: Professor Jason Monty (third from left) and the University of Melbourne research team with the prototype of the Medihood they developed.

In the first year of the pandemic, a multidisciplinary team of world-leading experts led by the University of Melbourne created a groundbreaking patient isolation hood for Western Health.

The patient isolation hood – now called the Medihood – is an Australian developed technology that protects healthcare workers and nearby patients from COVID-19 and other infectious respiratory diseases, by containing and filtering the infectious air expired by a patient.

Its successful development was made possible with funding from Round 3 of MTPConnect’s Biomedical Translation Bridge (BTB) program, an initiative of the Medical Research Future Fund and industry contributions. Round three of BTB specifically targeted COVID-19 projects, such as medical devices, to achieve an impact in less than 12-months. The project was supported by BTB venture partner Medical Device Partnering Program (MDPP).

In 2020 as COVID-19 cases surged, the University of Melbourne (UoM) brought together a multidisciplinary team of world-leading fluid dynamicists, clinicians and aerosol chemists with the engineering and aerosol science expertise necessary to develop the Medihood. The team was led by Professor Jason Monty and Ivan Marusic, both engineers and internationally recognised experts on fluid dynamics with specific expertise in aerosol transport.

UoM also worked in collaboration with Western Health (WH) through Associate Professor Forbes McGain, an ICU physician and anaesthetist, and colleagues to develop research infrastructure and conduct preliminary clinical trials to validate the Medihood.

Giving healthcare workers and patients peace of mind

The first demonstration of the early prototype was at Footscray and Sunshine Hospitals, and the device was trialled during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Victoria for usability, nurse acceptance and comfort with patients at Western Health.

The Clinical Trial was concluded with 100 patients at the end of December 2021, with the early indication showing the Medihood reduced the aerosol exposure significantly.

The Medihood is the first commercially available, unsealed, portable and scalable personal isolation solution. It is now in use in major metro and regional hospitals across Australia including Melbourne, Perth, Alice Springs, and Mildura.

At Western Health, Research Nurse Manager, Samantha Bates, said both frontline staff and patients in ICU embraced the new device and immediately felt more comfortable with it in use.

“A nurse who had been on maternity leave said to me ‘I came back during COVID because I felt safer working in ICU knowing the Medihood was in use to help protect me.’ And that was gold because I hadn’t really thought of that.”

Associate Professor Forbes McGain at Western Health confirmed that the innovative Medihood gave hospital patients more peace of mind.

“We had a patient who has chronic health issues and was suspected of having COVID-19, who normally comes in and stays by himself in an isolation room. His feedback was that he quite enjoyed [being under the device] because he wasn’t alone in a room, he felt more cared for, he could talk to staff and feel part of the ward.”

Successful collaboration – research, practice, manufacture

Melbourne based flag manufacturer Evan Evans – established in 1877 and co-designer of the Australian flag in 1901 – came on board as UoM’s product development and commercialisation partner, convinced of the potential of the product and the manufacturing efficiencies that it could achieve by re-purposing its flag making technology to manufacture the Medihood.

The BTB funding award enabled the successful collaboration between the University of Melbourne, Western Health and Evan Evans to bring the Medihood to market within 12 months.

The funding enabled further research by UoM towards optimising patient comfort and improving, in collaboration with the Doherty Institute and Western Health, a reduction in the spread of disease-carrying aerosols and droplets.

It also allowed Evan Evans to improve the device with respect to infection control, durability, ease-of-use, and design for manufacturing.

Iconic Melbourne company expands to manufacture and market the Medihood

Moreover, the BTB program provided commercialisation expertise and financial support to help Evan Evans develop the quality management system required to manufacture a medical device. Evan Evans has now licensed the rights from UoM to manufacture and distribute the product and has appointed dedicated sales and marketing staff.

The project has made some significant achievements:

• A successful ARTG-listed medical device that has helped to keep healthcare workers and nearby patients safer from airborne transmission of infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, Tuberculosis, and Influenza.

• A strong market advantage through having an abundance of research data that are either almost ready to be published or in data analysis process, including a clinical trial result that was completed recently.

• The Medihood is now in use in over 145 hospitals around Australia including regional centres – as well as enjoying early adoption overseas – and strong sales numbers have exceeded expectation.

• As a result of this project, the UoM Medihood researchers have become leading experts in airborne infection control and ventilation.

• UoM and Western Health have established Western Health Innovation Acceleration Program – where small internal seed funds are given to teams of engineers and medical professionals to come up with solutions of various medtech challenges. Two rounds of this program have run in 2021 and 2022 and the team has been involved in several awarded projects.

• Fourteen new jobs were created.

The good news is that the Medihood is now part of the Victorian Government DHHS guideline “Department of Health Coronavirus (COVID-19) Policy: Infection control measures to optimise ventilation and reduce transmission of COVID-19 in acute healthcare settings.”

The Medihood won the 2021 `Excellence Award in Interdisciplinary Research’ from the UoM Faculty of Engineering and IT and has been nominated as a Finalist in WorkSafe Victoria Awards 2021.