N.L.'s response to PPE crunch is here: First locally made face shields used in surgery

PolyUnity, a medical tech startup in St. John's, has sent its first face shields to hospitals for clinical use. According to surgeon Doug Angel, they passed the test.

PolyUnity started making face shields just weeks ago, will soon produce 4,000 a week

Face shields made by St. John's company PolyUnity were used by doctors Doug Angel and Jamie Tibbo in a surgery this week. (Submitted by Doug Angel)

A medical technology startup in St. John's has sent its first face shields to hospitals, just a month after being called into action to help with a personal protective equipment crunch.

Dr. Doug Angel, a head and neck oncologist in St. John's, used the first PolyUnity shield for a surgery this week. He said it worked better than he expected.

"I was very impressed and very proud of the guys and girls who designed this," Angel told The St. John's Morning Show. "It was awesome."

PolyUnity was started by a group of medical students at Memorial University in 2017 as a 3D printing operation on campus.

PolyUnity chief operating officers Travis Pickett showcases one of the face shields the company is producing. (PolyUnity)

The company specializes in 3D body parts to be used for physicians and students to practice procedures on. It also sells subscriptions to a database of 3D blueprints for people to print on their own.

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Newfoundland and Labrador, the company partnered with Taskforce NL — a group of business leaders volunteering their expertise in logistics and manufacturing to source more equipment for the province.

That group is led by former finance minister Cathy Bennett. She said PolyUnity was a pleasure to work with, and it was incredible to see the company go from a startup to a manufacturer in such a short window.

"It's one thing to be able to make a prototype that meets a standard," Bennett said. "It's a whole different thing to make that item in quantities like PolyUnity is doing." 

The company has already made 2,100 face shields and hopes to soon ramp up production to 4,000 per week.

Angel said it is a welcome help for health-care workers, especially those doing procedures that put them at risk of contracting the virus.

"I think that will really make our health-care workers feel more at ease," he said.

Bennett said Taskforce NL is working with other companies to find ways to produce more protective equipment in the province. She said the volunteers will be happy once they've found a reliable supply for all types of protective gear. So far, they've managed to source about 1.7 million units of things like gloves, masks, shields and gowns.

"We're just really trying to protect brave people like Dr. Angel and others who are on the frontline," she said.

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