Rapid Innovation in the Fight Against COVID-19

With expertise that spans basic, translational and clinical research, Brigham and Women’s Hospital clinicians and investigators are working tirelessly to address the most urgent needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Brigham has shut down most of its physical research labs. But many labs are still performing COVID-19 research remotely to better understand SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 in order to develop treatment strategies against them.

“In mid-March, hundreds of Brigham investigators and laboratory staff quickly pivoted to contribute to COVID-19 research and addressing COVID-related problems,” Jacqueline Slavik, PhD, MSc, executive director of the Brigham Research Institute (BRI). “Within days, we were launching clinical trials, developing safer testing procedures and solving problems around personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages.”

A Wave of New Solutions for COVID-19

In the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, clinicians and researchers from the Brigham have come together with colleagues from around the world to produce a wave of innovative solutions faster than ever before.

Some of the Brigham’s most recent advances in the fight against COVID-19 include:

“It’s inspiring to see how highly collaborative the Brigham research community has been during this crisis,” says Dr. Slavik. “Our research efforts have involved countless individuals from many academic institutions, the technology sector, industry and private companies—all of whom are working towards the common goal of mitigating COVID-19.”

Clinical Trials to Understand, Treat and Prevent COVID-19

To better understand COVID-19 and the virus that causes it, investigators at the BRI are working on a range of studies and trials. These include:

“The Brigham has also created a COVID-19 biorepository to collect an array of biospecimens from patients who are COVID positive, or have been,” says Allison Moriarty, MPH, vice president of research administration and compliance at the Brigham. “We believe this biorepository will be a key tool in helping us learn how to detect, treat and prevent COVID-19 in the future.”

A New Center for COVID Innovation

To rapidly develop new innovations and protect frontline staff across the Mass General Brigham (MGB) community and beyond, colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Brigham research community launched the Mass General Brigham Center for COVID Innovation (MGBCCI) in March.

“The mission of the MGB Center for COVID Innovation is to organize and consolidate the rapid investigation and clinical deployment of devices, diagnostics, data, analytics and the therapeutics that MGH and the Brigham is generating to combat the COVID-19 crisis,” says David Walt, PhD, a medical diagnostics researcher at the Brigham and the Wyss Institute.

Investigators at the MGBCCI are responding directly to the most pressing needs that face health care workers. They are prototyping and testing new PPE, patient isolation hoods, alternative versions of respirators, face masks, face shields and nasal swabs.

Working groups within the MGBCCI have already identified and developed several new devices. They’re exploring other potential solutions for problems related to the pandemic. These efforts include:

  • Decontaminating N95 respirators: To address the shortage of N95 respirators, the reuse working group brought a new hydrogen peroxide decontamination system to the Brigham. The system allows health care providers to reuse the respirators.
  • Improving surgical mask design: The surgical masks group identified design inputs and criteria that are being applied to the design of an “ideal” surgical mask to improve upon the current design.
  • Reusing ventilators: The ventilators team is investigating the potential disinfection and reuse of HME/HEPA ventilator filters. They’re also working with software engineers to build a remote monitoring and alarm system for ventilators.
  • Replacing N95 respirators with novel devices: The N95 respirators team is exploring novel ideas for devices that could replace N95 respirators that aren’t dependent on the filtration media supply chain. They also developed a way to repair 50,000 defective N95 respirators with New Balance.

“We’re also working to identify a direct-to-consumer diagnostic test that could be used at home. When implemented, people can quarantine themselves if they are positive for COVID-19,” says Dr. Walt. “These tests could help stem flare-ups of COVID-19 cases that will invariably happen when people return to work and reintegrate into society.”

If you are interested in working with the Mass General Brigham Center for COVID Innovation (MGBCCI), please fill out this questionnaire. You can also email the center at covid_innovation_data@partners.org.