Inspired by Italian doctors who turned full-face snorkels into crude oxygen masks during the peak of Italys COVID-19 crisis, Dr Joosten bought 120 snorkels from Melbournes camping shops.
Dr Joosten thinks his masks may present a cheap and effective way of safely transferring patients in hospitals.Credit:Dr Simon Joosten
Using a 3D-printed connecter, they can be hooked up to oxygen tanks. When a patient breathes in, room air is sucked into the mask. When they breathe out, a valve filters the air for any virus.
Australian hospitals never ran out of oxygen masks, but Dr Joosten hopes the invention may be helpful for moving potentially infectious patients through hospitals.
At the moment, doctors strap a breathing mask to a patient's face, and then put an N95 mask on top a fair solution but one that does not guarantee the patient will not spread the virus. The doctors transporting them need to wear full protective gear, and everywhere the patient travels needs to be cleaned.
"The transfers arent dangerous, but they take a lot of effort," Dr Joosten said.
He thinks his snorkels may present a cheaper and more effective alternative. His study to test that theory, which is fully funded, is awaiting approval from Monash Medical Centre.
Several eyebrow-raising clinical trials have been launched by Australian scientists.
One plans to give probiotics to nurses to see if that reduces their COVID-19-related stress. Another will try to treat COVID-19 using stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood.
A third will test regular sprays of antibiotics in the nose to try to kill the virus that causes COVID-19. A fourth trial will try high-dose zinc injected straight into COVID-19 patients.
Some science leaders fear having all these separate trials is a warning sign.
"The diversity of approaches is fascinating," said Professor Gemma Figtree, president of the Australian Cardiovascular Alliance. "But what this also highlights is the need for co-ordination, collaboration and strategic leadership that overarches all that.
"You cannot rely only on excellence if you want to develop a vaccine for COVID. If you were going to build a rocket to Mars, you would not rely entirely on highly competitive grants."
While innovative, scientists say the diversity of approaches to tacking COVID-19 is indicative of a wider problem: the lack of a co-ordinated national research strategy.
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Liam is The Age and Sydney Morning Herald's science reporter
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