CryogenicsCryogenics & medicine

How are international Physicists & Cryogenic technologies supporting COVID19 medical developments?

By May 5, 2020 No Comments

We recently explored how the scientific communities were able to use a pioneering technique, cryo-EM, (cryo-electron microscopy) to identify the protein spike on the SARS-CoV-2 virus (COVID19) & in doing so; gave the medical world an opportunity to establish the SARS-CoV-2 viruses capabilities & give the world an indicator of what we were up against. (1)

Cryogenics have yet another important role to play in the pandemic, that of providing medical oxygen supplies to critical care patients.

Having ascertained very quickly that the 15% of COVID19 patients in China with severe illness were in need of mechanical ventilation & lung support technologies; the need for increased numbers of ventilators & an increased availability of medical O2 was evident from very early on. (2)

The WHO cited that the need for severely ill COVID19 patient’s to be mechanically ventilated would see that ‘COVID-19 treatment health-care facilities should be equipped with pulse oximeters, functioning oxygen systems including single-use oxygen delivery interfaces’ (2)

Cryogenically produced liquid oxygen, cannot be produced on-site at medical facilities & is therefore manufactured at source. According to the WHO ‘Although an economical option in some settings, the use of liquid oxygen relies on external supply chain mechanisms and needs a bit more caution with respect to transport and storage due to the risks associated with higher pressures’ (2)

Around the world, gas companies have increased their delivery of O2 & in many cases have been installing on site liquid oxygen tanks at hospitals.

Air Liquide & Linde, two international suppliers of liquid oxygen, are seeing a between five to tenfold increase in demand for medical O2. In response to the increased demand, Nippon Gases’ subsidiary, Oximesa, has shifted to a 24-hour production schedule in Spain. (3)

BOC have been instrumental in providing oxygen tanks & four kilometers of piping at the EXCEL Nightingale Hospital in London, freeing up 3000 cylinders in the process. International gas companies have assured supply chains that they have the capacity to support the needs of critical care patients through the supply of medical O2.

Air Liquide have not only been supporting the COVID19 efforts with the supply of liquid oxygen, medical O2; they have also been ramping up their ventilator production to support the COVID19 critical care needs.

Benoît Potier, Air Liquide Chairman and CEO, stated: “In a context where each new respirator produced can save a life, Air Liquide is currently tripling its production. Today, we have decided to go even further by taking up the challenge of producing 10,000 respirators in 50 days, with, gathered around the teams of Air Liquide, Groupe PSA, Valeo, Schneider Electric and many other partners. In the face of adversity, this approach illustrates the best of French industry, from major international champions to small and medium-sized businesses.

It is an industrial challenge but also a human one. Teams of engineers, technicians and operators from different companies must be brought together around this exceptional project, and in record time. Air Liquide is very proud to contribute with all its strength to the national effort against COVID-19.” (4)

The need for increased manufacture & for a rapid production of ventilators worldwide, has seen many international manufacturers turn their hands to rising to the challenge.

On the 20th March, CERN’s Director General set up a task force to call on the 18,000 members worldwide, to pool their collective specialisms to support the COVID19 pandemic effort. Member states of CERN have been encouraged to propose how the collective technological competencies of CERN can be best used to help support the COVID19 pandemic efforts.

According to the ‘CERN Against COVID-19’ website, one of the key areas they have turned their knowledge pool too, is the design & manufacture of PPE using 3D printing technologies & the manufacture of 1 tonne of medical grade hand gel, manufactured from chemical components already in their labs (5) Furthermore, the need for an easily available ventilator, reliant on components already available & which complies with the strict hospital standards; has been tackled by Jan Buytaert – Physicist LHCb Collaboration.

Jan Buytaert has designed & built a buffer using readily available components, designed to support mechanical ventilation for critical care patients. The buffer uses a series of regulators, a buffer which maintains the oxygen supply momentarily & an inhale valve which produces approximately ½ litre of air per breath. (5)

The way in which physics & cryogenics technologies is supporting the global COVID19 support effort is admirable. Global Physicists & Scientists are using their accumulated knowledge, technological competencies & their international scientific connections; to draw together a global knowledge pool all with one goal; to overcome the COVID19 pandemic, support the international effort & ultimately save lives.

Written by Katy-Jane Mason, for & on behalf of Dolphin N2.

  2. WHO reference number: WHO/2019-nCoV/Oxygen_sources/2020.1 04.04.2020