Georgia Bio, the state’s life science trade association, named GCMI, the Saldana Research Group and Georgia Tech 2021 Golden Helix Innovation Award recipients. The Innovation Award recognizes the department, institution, company or individuals who are forging new ground by thinking outside traditional paradigms to create some unique technology.


In early 2020, U.S. frontline healthcare workers were in desperate need of personal protective equipment (PPE) as Covid-19 began to ravage the country and its healthcare system.

Image credit: GT Research Horizons


By the time the University System of Georgia suspended on-campus instruction and asked students to depart campus by March 13 in response to rapidly increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases, Christopher Saldana, Ph.D., associate professor of manufacturing at Georgia Tech and his mechanical engineering students and colleagues were already working on challenges and solutions for PPE for frontline healthcare workers.


Chris’ team needed a scalable, final design capable of transitioning to large scale manufacturing to meet the end users’ urgent needs. Thanks to the close knit medtech innovation ecosystem in Georgia, Sherry Farrugia and Joanna Newton, MD, connected Christopher and his team with GCMI.


At that time, Ms. Farrugia was Executive Director of the Children’s Healthcare of Technology Pediatric Technology Center at Georgia Tech. She has since taken on the role of Interim CEO for GCMI.


Starting Monday, March 16, 2020, the team collaboration produced the final designs including documentation and regulation considerations to enable manufacturing partners to produce the face shields and begin distribution to the front line providers and hospitals. 


“Generating a final solution to a desperately needed medical product was quite a challenge,” Chris said. “We went into an ‘all hands on deck’ startup mode to rapidly design, prototype and iterate. We used our fabrication facility to produce prototypes. GCMI documented clinical feedback, functionality and traceable document specificity. It is immensely important to understand the use case in the hospital setting as well as requirements for large scale manufacturing. GCMI excels in these areas. They helped guide our prototyping because manufacturers need specific details on manufacturing allowances and tolerances to deliver the product the frontline clinicians need.”


To date, more than 2 million PPE face shields have been delivered to front line healthcare workers across the country. The team made the designs freely available to all, so others like KIA have been manufacturing using the Saldana design and GCMI specifications for use under EUA.


“This past year has truly put a spotlight on the importance of the life sciences industry in our everyday lives,” said David Hartnett, Chief Economic Development Officer at the Metro Atlanta Chamber and member of the Georgia Bio Awards Committee in a Georgia Bio press release. “The coronavirus pandemic created an immediate need for our community to collaborate and foster innovation to combat COVID. Our leaders did not disappoint, and we look forward to celebrating their efforts on April 1st.” 


“I am immensely proud of our team’s work and this collaboration with our colleagues at Georgia Tech including the Saldana Research Lab,” Ms. Farrugia says. “This project has and will continue to help keep frontline healthcare providers safe. It shows what’s possible when we put our collective experience, expertise and resources to work to create what’s needed and what’s next. We congratulate all of the 2021 Golden Helix Award winners.


Ms. Farrugia and Dr. Saldana would like to share a special thank you to Dr. Samuel Graham, Chair, School of Mechanical Engineering and Dr. Devesh Ranjan, Associate Chair for Research, Ring Family Chair, Professor at Georgia Tech, for being catalysts at the onset of Covid-19 in helping to amplify the impact of PPE production to the State of Georgia.


The 2021 cohort of Golden Helix Award winners will be recognized during a virtual ceremony on April 1st. Click here for registration information.


About GCMI

GCMI’s mission is to bring new medical technologies to market that improve quality-based outcomes and delivery of care for patients worldwide. This certainly includes supporting development of medical technologies born in our backyard from faculty, researchers and students with whom we share our institutional affiliation. 

If you have an idea, design or maybe even a prototype for a new technology with medical care potential, it’s never too early to reach out to us. Contact A member of the team will connect with you.