July 9 (UPI) -- Researchers said Thursday that they have developed a resusable silicone rubber face mask with an N95 filter.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brigham and Women's Hospital said in a statement that they think the new face mask is as effective at stopping viral particles as N95 masks.
The goal in developing and testing the new face mask is to meet the "dire need for personal protective equipment within healthcare settings during the COVID-19 pandemic," researchers said in the study, published Thursday in British Medical Journal Open.
Many hospitals have used hydrogen peroxide vapor to sterilize masks for reuse, but the process requires specialized equipment that is not available everywhere. And while the cleaning allows for up to 20 reuses, it can only be worn one day with every cleaning, researchers said.
The new masks have space for one or two N95 filters to be replaced after each use, and the rest of the rubber mask itself can be sterilized and reused many times.
"With this design, the filters can be popped in and then thrown away after use, and you're throwing away a lot less material than an N95 mask," Brigham and Women's Hospital research engineer Adam Wentworth, co-lead author of the study, said in a statement.
Researchers recruited 24 healthcare workers for the study to test the fit of the mask and found that it could successfully fit different face sizes.
Now, the research team is working on a second version of the mask with hopes to make it more comfortable and durable.
Going forward, they also expect to do more lab tests that measure the masks' ability to filter particles.
"We know that COVID-19 is really not going away until a vaccine is prevalent," said co-lead author James Byrne, a radiation oncologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and research affiliate at MIT. "I think there's always going to be a need for masks, whether it be in the health care setting or in the general public."