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UMMS students produce hand sanitizer for nearby hospitals amid COVID-19 pandemic

By Kylee Denesha and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

April 10, 2020

In a time of dire need, as medical professionals are working to care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic and critical supplies of protective gear are running low, students in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UMass Medical School produced nearly 130 gallons of hand sanitizer in less than three days to help sustain local hospitals. 

“We wanted to find a way to get the graduate students involved in this effort,” said MD/PhD student Peter Cruz-Gordillo, a member of the UMMS COVID-19 student task force. “By the day, COVID-19 cases are increasing. There’s a great need for sanitizer not just for hands, but also to clean off the PPE. We thought this would be a great opportunity to help.”

Six students, working with staff from the Environmental Health and Safety and Environmental Building Services departments, received temporary essential personnel status so they could work inside the Lazare Research building.

Under specific aseptic instruction and behavioral precautions, the students followed World Health Organization guidelines to gather their reagents.

“We were given a directive because of the surge that’s coming,” said Cruz-Gordillo. “With the help of UMMS leadership, we solicited donations of supplies from faculty. We were able to collect what we needed for production; it was beautiful.”

Nicholas Rhind, PhD, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, supplied materials, as did many other faculty.

“I had hydrogen peroxide in my lab, which the students said they needed as soon as possible,” Dr. Rhind said. “Watching them figure it out themselves, use their solution making skills and come up with a practical plan was impressive.”

Students combined ethanol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerol and sterile, cold water. The final product is multipurpose, and will rapidly deactivate the virus and help reduce transmission.

“These are junior scientists who are trained in laboratory and chemical safety, and competent to put together any compound needed for hospital use,” said Tomás Rodriguez, MD/PhD student and task force member. 

“What a terrific and all-out effort by all,” said JoAnn Ranslow, CHMM, chemical and laboratory safety manager. “Thank you to all those involved.”

Kathy O’Shea, director of housekeeping services at UMass Memorial Medical Center-University campus, said she was impressed.

“With the abundance of calls we receive every day for sanitizer in our public spaces, it is a relief to know that we have students working hard to help,” O’Shea said.

Cruz-Gordillo said the sanitizer will be delivered to UMass Memorial Health Care hospitals, UMass Medical School and the field hospital at the DCU Center in the coming days. 

The students say they plan to make another 100 gallons, and they also hope to hand their procedure off to Environmental Health and Safety so more hands can produce and distribute sanitizer, if the need is present.