New device could reduce COVID-19 infection risk and demand for invasive ventilators

For Immediate Release
Lawson Health Research Institute, London Health Sciences Centre & University Health Network
May 13, 2020


New device could reduce COVID-19 infection risk and demand for invasive ventilators
Non-invasive ventilation mask being tested on the frontline in London, Ontario

LONDON, ON – Led by Lawson Health Research Institute, London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), University Health Network (UHN) and General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada (GDLS-Canada), researchers have designed a non-invasive ventilation mask that could significantly reduce aerosolization – the production of airborne respiratory droplets that may contain viruses or bacteria – when treating patients with COVID-19. The new device aims to reduce infection risks associated with non-invasive ventilation and lessen the demand for invasive ventilators. It is currently being tested through a clinical trial with patients at LHSC.

“Since the beginning of this pandemic, there have been global concerns about a shortage of ventilators,” says Dr. Tarek Loubani, Lawson Associate Scientist and Emergency Department Physician at LHSC. “Non-invasive ventilators like CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) and BiPAP (bi-level positive airway pressure) machines are associated with an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission and so many hospitals have moved directly to invasive ventilation.”

COVID-19 is primarily spread through inhalation of respiratory droplets and the most severely ill patients require a ventilator to help them breathe. Unlike invasive ventilators, which require intubation, non-invasive ventilators help patients breathe through a mask that provides positive pressure to keep the lungs open and functioning. While non-invasive ventilators may be effective for some COVID-19 patients, their use comes with a much higher risk of spreading infection through aerosolization of respiratory droplets.

The team’s non-invasive ventilation mask aims to eliminate this risk. The novel device is customized from a standard firefighter’s mask using 3D printing and can be attached to any CPAP or BiPAP machine. Unlike traditional masks, it creates two tight seals – one around the patient’s nose and mouth and another around the face. Patients breathe in and out of a filter that captures any viral particles before they are released to the air.
“There are countless CPAP and BiPAP machines idling around the world while all resources go towards invasive ventilation,” explains Dr. Azad Mashari, Anesthesiologist at UHN’s Peter Munk Cardiac Centre. “Our mask aims to put these machines back into the clinician’s toolkit. By eliminating air leaks, we can improve patient safety and significantly reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 for health-care workers and other patients.”

Drs. Loubani, Mashari and Benjamin Thomson, Nephrologist at Mackenzie Health, were part of a clinical research team that worked with engineers from GDLS-Canada to develop the device within six days.

“GDLS-Canada responded quickly to the urgent need to support those on the COVID-19 healthcare frontlines during this global health emergency,” says Doug Wilson-Hodge, GDLS-Canada’s Manager of Communications, Community and Government Relations. “The innovative design was very much a collaborative effort between all parties to contribute solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The initial clinical trial will test the device with up to 50 patients at LHSC’s Victoria Hospital and University Hospital with plans to expand to UHN. In addition to patients with COVID-19, participants will include those with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and congestive heart failure (CHF).

The research team anticipates other hospitals in Ontario and across Canada will join the study to create a multi-centre clinical trial. The device will be used in emergency departments and has potential to be used in intensive care units, remote nursing stations and during pre-hospital transport. It has also been designed for easy production in resource-strained locations. 

“This problem affects everyone and it’s critical that we all do what we can to help,” adds Dr. Loubani. “We hope it will help not only those in urban centres like Toronto and London, but people in remote communities around the world.”

The trial is being supported with funding from Glia, an organization internationally recognized for producing medical supplies that are easily accessible and can be manufactured in low-resource settings.



Robert DeLaet, Communications and External Relations, Lawson Health Research Institute,
t. 519.685.8500 ext. 75664, c. 519.619.3872

As the research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, and working in partnership with Western University, Lawson Health Research Institute is committed to furthering scientific knowledge to advance health care around the world. For more information, visit

London Health Sciences Centre has been at the forefront of medicine in Canada for 145 years and offers the broadest range of specialized clinical services in Ontario. Building on the traditions of its founding hospitals to provide compassionate care in an academic teaching setting, London Health Sciences Centre is home to Children’s Hospital, University Hospital, Victoria Hospital, the Kidney Care Centre, two family medical centres, and two research institutes – Children’s Health Research Institute and Lawson Health Research Institute. As a leader in medical discovery and health research, London Health Sciences Centre has a history of over 70 international and national firsts and attracts top clinicians and researchers from around the world. As a regional referral centre, London Health Sciences Centre cares for the most medically complex patients including critically injured adults and children in southwestern Ontario and beyond. The hospital’s nearly 15,000 staff, physicians, students and volunteers provide care for more than one million patient visits a year. For more information, visit

University Health Network consists of Toronto General, recently voted one of the Top 5 Hospitals in the World according to Newsweek Magazine, and Toronto Western Hospital, the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, and the Michener Institute of Education at UHN. The scope of research and complexity of cases at University Health Network has made it a national and international source of discovery, education and patient care. It has the largest hospital-based research program in Canada, with major research in cardiology, transplantation, neurosciences, oncology, surgical innovation, infectious diseases, genomic medicine and rehabilitation medicine. University Health Network is a research hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto.