Skip to Content

CBID-redesigned protective Ebola caregivers suit selected for funding

December 12, 2014
Student help another student try on a white ebola suit.

An advanced protective suit for health care workers who treat Ebola patients, devised by a Johns Hopkins team in the new BME Design Studio, is one of the first five awardees selected for federal funding in a contest aimed at quickly devising new tools to combat the deadly disease.

The “Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development” contest, led by the United States Agency for International Development (USAid), received in excess of 1,500 ideas from innovators around the world.

The Johns Hopkins’ improved health care protective suit grew out of a weekend-long design brainstorming event hosted in October at BME’s Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design (CBID. The 65 participants represented a wide range of Johns Hopkins students; medical, public health and engineering experts; and even a few community volunteers with valuable skills and perspectives, including a wedding gown designer and an architect.

BME Assistant Professor Youseph Yazdi, challenge organizer and executive director of Johns Hopkins CBID program explained that the goal of the competition was to come up with solutions that could get into the field as quickly as possible, without costing a lot of money. So the team used the same lightweight material that major manufacturers are currently using. But they redesigned it so the hood and the rest of the suit are attached. And they re-positioned a zipper from the front to the back of the suit. They reconfigured the zipper with pull tabs that allow the wearer to unzip easily, so the suit essentially peels away.

“As a result the redesigned suit reduces the number of steps in the doffing process from 20 steps to six, making it much quicker — and safer — to remove.” Yazdi continued, “You don’t need a buddy to help you and you don’t have to touch the hood or grab around your face.”

A yellow ebola suit is on a mannequin.

The Johns Hopkins prototype is designed to do a better job than current garments in keeping health care workers from coming in contact with Ebola patients’ contagious body fluids, both during treatment and while removing a soiled suit. In addition, it is expected to keep the wearer cooler — an important benefit in hot, humid regions such as West Africa. Other enhancements include a large clear visor in the hood, air vents in the hood, a rear zipper to reduce infection risks while removing the garment; a cocoon-style doffing process that requires far fewer steps than existing garments; and a small battery-powered, and a dry air source to cool the user by blowing air into the hood.

With the basic improvements identified, core team members will proceed with fine-tuning of the prototype protective suit — with a goal of getting some elements of the design ready for mass production perhaps as early as April 2015. Product enhancement and delivery will be overseen by CBID and Jhpiego, a nonprofit Johns Hopkins affiliate that focuses on international health programs.

Category: Department

Read the Johns Hopkins University privacy statement here.