Outside the Buffalo City Mission, Peter L. Elkin, MD, and his wife, Marge, hold sample face masks and shields produced by a UB group. 

Faculty, Students Donate Face Masks to Buffalo City Mission

Published January 22, 2021

The University at Buffalo has donated more than 200 reusable 3D-printed face masks and 100 face shields to the Buffalo City Mission for distribution to its clients and staff.

“The idea of harnessing the university’s broad expertise for the greater good during these extraordinarily challenging times was the primary motivating factor for all of us. ”
Professor and chair of biomedical informatics
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Delivered Dec. 1 to the Buffalo City Mission’s Alfiero Family Center of Hope and Promise by UB faculty, the masks and face shields were created by UB’s 3D printing group, which formed at the start of the pandemic as a partnership among faculty, staff and students in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and School of Dental Medicine.

“The idea of harnessing the university’s broad expertise for the greater good during these extraordinarily challenging times was the primary motivating factor for all of us,” says Peter L. Elkin, MD, professor and chair of biomedical informatics in the Jacobs School.

Open-Source 3D Printing Movement Utilized

Early in the pandemic, the 3D printing group at UB began working with the Buffalo chapter of e-NABLE, the international, open-source 3D printing movement that has stepped up during the pandemic to produce personal protective equipment for communities all over the world. 

“e-NABLE has been a great partner,” says Albert H. Titus, PhD, professor and chair of biomedical engineering, a joint program between the Jacobs School and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, “as they are an existing network of 3D printing and design enthusiasts who donate their time to solve broad challenges.”

Together with the UB group, members of the Buffalo chapter of e-NABLE developed designs and physical prototypes; they also published the designs so that anyone could produce the face shields and masks.

The UB group is also launching a new design of a clear plastic mask that enables robust communications and social interactions while maintaining safety. The first of these are part of the UB donation to the Buffalo City Mission.

“When the pandemic hit in February, our lab in the dental school began generating the 3D-printed mask designed by the Billings Clinic in Montana,” says Praveen Arany, DDS, PhD, assistant professor of oral biology in the School of Dental Medicine. “This led to the creation of the 3D printing group that my lab has participated in. We generate several unique products as dental face shields, comfort bands and clear masks that are available as a community service to the university and WNY community.”

‘Thoughtful and Inspiring Gift’ Appreciated

In collaboration with Jacobs School faculty and students led by Elkin, the group designed and produced various types of masks and shields. With the assistance of community members Marge Elkin and Betty Jean Grant, Elkin then coordinated the donation with the Buffalo City Mission.

“We sincerely thank the University at Buffalo community for this thoughtful and inspiring gift,” says Aubrey Calhoun, associate executive director of the Buffalo City Mission.

“Throughout the pandemic, our staff continues to closely follow health and safety standards as we serve our region’s homeless,” she says. “These masks and face shields will help our team to continue this important work and exemplify the very best of how creativity and humanity can come together to help our neighbors in need.”

Michael O’Hara, manager of major gifts for the Buffalo City Mission adds: “You can imagine how lonely it can feel if you work in a field addressing needs that never seem to diminish. The work of restoring the lives of our homeless neighbors feels very much like that at times, until a group of professionals, leaders, educators, and experts across different fields, connected by a stellar organization such as the University at Buffalo, and pulled together by a desire to address a critical need, reaches out to us to be a very tangible help in our day-to-day activities. This act of kindness has not only equipped us but also encouraged us.”

UB dental student Philip Sales, left, shows the reusable face masks produced by UB to Michael O’Hara and Heather Mattiuzzo of the Buffalo City Mission.

Buffalo Blue Sky 1.0 Provides Partial Funding

Materials and resources to design and produce the masks and face shields were made possible through funding from several sources, including Buffalo Blue Sky 1.0, a program of UB’s Office of Research and Economic Development that provides seed funding for innovative team science.

In addition, Jim Whitlock, associate director of computer services at UB, and Pete Suffoletto, a UB alumnus and CEO of PVS Process Equipment Inc., made significant donations of labor and funds to bring the project to fruition.

Approximately 30 UB students and fellows were involved in designing and producing the face masks and shields. 

Trainees in the clinical informatics fellowship at the Jacobs School who participated are:

  • Gabriel Anaya, MD
  • Gillian Franklin, MD, PhD
  • Kendria Hall, MD
  • Brianne E. MacKenzie, MD

Aaron Michael Gorsline, a student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, also participated.