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Supporting The Fight Against COVID: Medical Illustrator 3D Prints PPE at USU

Elizabeth "Betsy" Weissbrod stands in PPE gear with the 3D printing equipment

By Vivian Mason

“If you have an idea of how you can help during this pandemic, then just do it,” said Elizabeth “Betsy” Weissbrod. 

Weissbrod is a certified medical illustrator with the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine (HJF) who works in support of the Val G. Hemming Simulation Center at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU). 

She recently took her own advice.  

“When I first heard that there was a lack of PPE [personal protective equipment] and that people were looking into 3D printing, I immediately started searching the internet to try and make something that would be sustainable for either the immediate future or be usable later in case this ever happened again.” 

Knowing there was a need for PPE, Weissbrod’s USU and HJF colleagues supported her 3D printing idea.

“When we looked into it, we ended up modifying existing base 3D models,” she said. “We quickly realized there are a lot of people all over the world creating models and prototypes for 3D printed PPE.” 

Weissbrod looked into several different models and analyzed what would be the most efficient and cost-effective approach, the easiest to assemble, and fastest to print.  Of the hundreds of mask designs/models that are available, Weissbrod and her colleagues reviewed the simplest and safest designs.  

“It’s not just about finding materials that will work, it’s about finding materials that are also safe for tissue contact,” she said.

After much research, they found a face mask design created by a dentist in Georgia. 

“It’s a one-piece design that you 3D print and just add on the rest,” she said.  Once completed, the masks can be cleaned and reused, saving money and resources. 

3D renderings of the face shield, face mask, and 3D printed components being utilized by USU students, faculty, and staff.
3D renderings of the face shield, face mask, and 3D printed components being utilized by USU students, faculty, and staff. (Images courtesy of
Elizabeth Weissbrod and Joe Bradascio, Henry M. Jackson Foundation, USU)

Weissbrod found that when first making the masks, it was difficult to get a good seal around the face, and the plastic didn’t conform to different facial features. To combat this obstacle, she worked alongside Melissa Bradshaw, senior program manager for USU Operations with HJF, to create a 3D- printed mold into which they could pour silicone to create a gasket. This gasket was custom-made for the face mask base that was dual-purposed, creating a comfortable fit for the wearer and, most importantly, maintaining an air-tight seal against the face. The pliability of the gasket also provides the face mask an almost universal fit, accounting for a variety of human facial structures. 

This gasket model is available on the NIH 3D Print Exchange to use with the mask base, if desired. The Exchange is also a sharing site for 3D printable models and provides models in formats that are readily compatible with 3D printers. It provides a common space where scientists, clinicians, and the public can create, share, and download 3D printable models. 

“The models we uploaded were for noncommercial use because we want people to be able to use them for free,” Weissbrod added. “Anyone with a 3D printer can download, print, and use the face mask (or headband and gasket models). It’s rewarding when you finally get an item printed, assembled, and have a fully working product to wear and know that it’s safe because it was fit-tested.”

After several iterations, the face masks passed a quantitative fit-test at Walter Reed National Military
Medical Center, an important step in the process.  They were fit-tested using a machine that assesses how well a respirator (face mask) fits by detecting the amount of air that enters the mask. Many other hospitals also utilize test machines like this one to ensure that their staff have properly fitting N95 masks.  

“We created a bunch of face masks and shields,” Weissbrod explained. “We also provided masks and face shields to anyone who could use them, like the Forest Glen Annex Police Office. On a very small scale, these face shields and masks have even been sent to military bases and frontline workers all over the country.”

There have been many requests for 3D face shield headbands. Many of them are used by USU students at the Sim Center and at multidisciplinary laboratories, as well as by staff, patients, and faculty. They are available for everyone to use. The headband for the face shield was modified from another available online model and that model has been used by people all over the world, but the original model is still available.

“We simply modified it for our use so a three-hole punch can be utilized with a shield to fit the headband,” she said.

There’s a lot of research involved in 3D printing to see what works and what doesn’t. Research will continue on these models and others so that users will have a better idea of the efficacy of these products. Weissbrod hopes that she can continue researching and producing items. “We’ll have a base knowledge that we can start with and know at what level these products are appropriately used and then how we can perhaps use them going forward.

“There are a lot of talented people out there in the world who could be great assets in developing and creating products for use. Already, they’re providing many different solutions to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “It’s very exciting to participate in and watch this growth.”