Badgers vs. The Pandemic

Louis Pasteur pioneered the rabies vaccine, and Jonas Salk the polio vaccine. By contrast, conquering coronavirus has been a team effort. UW–Madison faculty, staff, and alumni are playing a part, and not just in the laboratory. Badgers have joined the fight across a range of professions, whether treating patients on the front lines or delivering food to grocery stores. Here are eight heroes who’ve stepped up during the pandemic, determined to put the Wisconsin Idea into action. Hats off to them and countless others who will — with courage and creativity — help us through this crisis.

Dr. Hau Le, a Forward BIO Institute member, is one of the eight individuals featured in this article from On Wisconsin (Fall 2020).

The Inventor - Hau Le

COVID-19 created a common problem in patient rooms around the country: medical teams wanted to treat patients with a highly contagious disease without spreading the illness themselves. A persistent lack of personal protective equipment for health care workers put both them and their patients at risk.

Enter the BADGER: the Box of Aerosol and Droplet Guarding and Evacuation in Respiratory infection. Designed by UW–Madison surgery professor Hau Le and a team of UW doctors, engineers, and the Sector67 makerspace, the BADGER is a person-sized negative pressure isolation chamber. Think of it as PPE that surrounds a patient rather than a doctor or nurse: while regular PPE keeps a virus-free zone around each health care worker, the BADGER keeps an infected zone contained around a patient. This allows health care professionals to give treatment without risk of exposure to coronavirus.

“The device has a reusable clear shell and other disposable accessories,” says Le. “The accessories are commonly available in any hospital, such as surgical gloves, tubing, filters, drapes, tapes. Put together, they create a semi-sealed device that does the job. We designed it so that it could be made easily and cheap.”

Though Le’s primary appointment is in the Department of Surgery in the School of Medicine and Public Health, he’s also affiliated with the UW’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. He says his design took inspiration from an intubation shield created by Taiwanese physician Hsien-Yung Lai to protect anesthesiologists as they were placing breathing tubes in patients. Le then improved the design by turning the shield into a semi-sealed chamber.

Working with Peter Adamczyk and UW–Madison Engineering Support for COVID-19, Le saw the design become a prototype to test at UW Hospital. The BADGER is also available as an open-source design from the UW’s MakerSpace, and Le hopes that it will inspire others to develop further improvements.

“The purpose,” he says, “is to spread the word so that other places can build their own devices based on the work that we’ve done.”

–  John Allen