SGH creates portable chambers that convert wards and ICUs into negative pressure isolation rooms

SINGAPORE – A hospital has created portable systems that convert wards, intensive care units (ICU) and operating theatres into negative pressure isolation rooms within hours to house patients with infectious diseases.

One of the two transparent chamber-like systems at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), called the System of Portable AnteRoom for Containment (SG-Sparc), can be fitted behind the entrance of a ward or ICU. It measures 1.2m by 1.6m, and is 2.4m high.

After any gaps between the entrance and the system are sealed, a Hepa filter unit at the top of the system is powered up to create a negative pressure environment within the patient’s room, so that infectious droplets and air from the room cannot seep outside into the corridors.

The chamber has two doors, one at the entrance of the ward, and one inside the ward, facing the patient. When the inside door opens for medical staff to enter or leave the room, contaminated air flows into the chamber and through the Hepa filter, so that clean air re-enters the room.

The 70kg system takes an hour to set up, and was installed at SGH’s Medical ICU in July. One more of the same type will be added to the Medical ICU soon.

The collapsible SG-Sparc can also be fixed to single and multiple-bed wards with infectious diseases patients. The size of the system is customisable, and each takes two weeks to fabricate.

The other SG-Sparc system, used in operating theatres, is larger to allow an ICU bed, ventilator and medical staff to pass through. Measuring 3.8m by 1.6m with a height of 2m, the system prevents droplets from escaping the room while surgeries, including aerosol-generating procedures, are performed on infectious patients.

The 150kg chamber takes two hours to set up. One system has been installed in an operating theatre in SGH.

From far left to far right: Dr. Zihui Tan and Dr. Hairil Rizal Bin Abdullah switching on the nebulizer to release the virus-containing droplets in ‘the operating theatre room’. Dr. Jye Yng Teo and Dr. Balamurugan Periaswamy witnessing release of the virus-containing droplets from the nedulizer and timing the duration of release. 

The two systems were developed by anaesthesiologists from SGH, in collaboration with a local biomedical incubator, The Biofactory. The project was funded by SingHealth Duke-NUS’s Urgent Covid-19 Research Fund, with contribution from The Biofactory.

This invention comes at a time where existing numbers of isolation rooms abroad are insufficient to support the Covid-19 surge. It is also costly and time-consuming to build isolation rooms.

“We have seen how hospitals overseas struggled when they ran out of negative pressure isolation rooms during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Dr Mavis Teo, consultant at SGH’s Department of Anaesthesiology.

“It got us thinking if there is a way for us to very quickly and temporarily convert existing patient rooms, especially ICU rooms, to care for infectious patients when the need arises,” added Dr Teo, who is the project’s co-investigator.

SG-Sparc has received strong interest from local and overseas buyers, said Mr Gabriel Tan, The Biofactory’s programme director.

To ensure the system’s ability to contain viruses, scientists from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology released live non-pathogenic viruses into a simulated ICU installed with SG-Sparc. No microbes escaped from the room.

SG-Sparc is the third collaboration between SGH and The Biofactory, after SG-Safe, a foldable swab test system and SG-Safer, an isolation X-ray booth.

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