Monash researchers devise scalable paper gowns for frontline workers amid PPE shortages

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Researchers at Monash University’s BioPRA, Department of Chemical Engineering and School of Biological have manufactured a paper-based medical gown – a breakthrough discovery that could address mass shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) worldwide.

“The global pandemic, spike in demand, and shortage of traditional PPE materials suitable for viral transmission protection has driven researchers, virologists and biomedical experts to collaborate and explore low cost alternative materials for medical gowns and other PPE,” said lead author and Director of BioPRIA at Monash University, Professor Gil Garnier.

By laminating bleached and newsprint paper with polyethylene, a lightweight thermoplastic, the researchers have developed an alternative way to create protective equipment amid a shortage of more common PPE materials.

In response to shortages, essential workers have resorted to using alternatives such as plastic garbage bags as gowns. However, according to Prof. Garnier, these makeshift solutions do not provide sufficient protection against the coronavirus.

“Suitable medical gowns must meet a number of requirements for tensile strength, seam strength, water penetration, hydrostatic pressure and viral protection. While paper is not an obvious material to manufacture gowns, it is easily accessible and produced in most countries.”

The cost-effective, scalable solution marks the first time paper has been used as material for medical gowns.

While paper may not seem suitable for PPE production, co-author and Head of Monash University’s Department of Chemical Engineering Professor Mark Professor Mark Banaszak Holl opined that the material’s availability makes it an option given limited access to the usual polyolefin. “Contrastingly, paper is manufactured on all the inhabited continents and in most countries.”

Prof. Holl added that paper has seen “substantial progress” as an engineered material.

“Laminated paper is a non-woven material with significant potential for use in medical gowns. The inherent properties, ubiquitous availability, low cost, agile paper production and lamination processes make this material widely available, suitable to address the health-care criteria, and able to adapt to rapid changes in demand during a pandemic event or other emergency that results in critical PPE shortage situations.”