The ROSE Project
The ROSE Project wants individuals in the community to be able to access a mask they know is protecting them and the people they care for. (Photo: Michael Kilian)

It's an innovation that can't come soon enough for healthcare providers in the community: an open-source, reusable mask design that will allow anyone, anywhere, access to medical grade personal protective equipment (PPE). And, it's being developed right here in Toronto. 

"At the beginning of the pandemic, I was hearing about a lot of community hospitals and personal support workers who were struggling to access PPE, either from a supply or cost perspective," says Dr. Reena Kilian, a physician at Toronto Rehab, and co-founder of the ROSE Project, which stands for Reusable Open Source Equipment.

"We're working to remove those barriers, so individuals in the community can access a mask they know is protecting them and the people they care for."

To that end, the ROSE Project team is designing a cloth mask that performs the same as the disposable, medical masks used in hospitals; can be worn up to 60 times; is open source; and easy for anyone to make. 

Co-founded by Dr. Kilian and her brother, who is an architect, the ROSE Project team includes a sewist, a textile engineer, a science communicator, a medical student, and another physician from Toronto Rehab, Dr. Denyse Richardson.

As medical experts, Drs. Kilian and Richardson bring an acute awareness of the need for this innovation, given the populations of patients they care for every day – many of whom are individuals living with spinal cord injuries, and require face-to-face assistance, in activities of daily living.

Experimenting with fleece, silk, and other easily available fabrics that aren't highly engineered, the team is collaborating with the Gage Aerosol Lab at University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health. They are testing filtration and breathability to ensure the mask design meets international safety standards.

'Tackling two major public health issues at once'

"So far, we have some promising results," says Dr. Kilian.

"What's really challenging is finding the balance between filtration and breathability. A lot of fabrics are highly filtrative but aren't breathable – and if a mask is not breathable, individuals are less likely to use it."

The other obstacle to overcome is cost. With funding from MSH UHN Academic Medical Organization and Toronto Rehab Division of Family Medicine Hospitalists, the ROSE Project has been able to source materials, conduct testing, and cover fabrication costs. 

But ongoing support is needed to pay for more time in the lab, human resources, and meet the ROSE project's goal of going live in about a year.  

Until then, the promise of less disposable, more reusable medical equipment propels the team forward.

"Having an impact on climate change and the pandemic feels like tackling two major public health issues at once, and that's exciting," according to Dr. Kilian.

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