COVID-19: Scientists invent low-cost emergency ventilator
Using standard parts that cost less than USD 400, scientists have developed an emergency ventilator which could be an affordable option when more sophisticated technology is not available, or in short supply, an invention that may help save the lives of those suffering from COVID-19. While in the simplest ventilators, doctors squeeze a self-inflating bag by hand to pump air into the lungs, and high-end automated versions use complex electronics to control multiple parameters, the current innovation, described in a yet-to-be peer-reviewed study in medRxiv, is a cost-effective device with a mechanism that automatically squeezes the self-inflating bag.
“We wanted to build the simplest device that could be effective. Our acute shortage ventilator is exactly that, and we now want to get it into use as quickly as possible,” said Martin Breidenbach, a co-author of the study from Stanford University in the US.
The researchers, including those from Stanford University in the US, said ventilators are life savers for those who can’t breathe sufficiently on their own — a common problem for those severely affected by COVID-19. They explained that the device compresses oxygen-rich air and pushes it through tubes into a patient’s lungs, expanding them, and helping take up oxygen, following which the lungs contract on their own, pushing the air back out.
The current innovation, according to the scientists, is based on a simple model, with the addition of a mechanism that automatically squeezes the self-inflating bag. They said the system also incorporates modern, inexpensive electronic pressure sensors and microcomputers with sophisticated software that precisely controls the squeeze.
According to the study, the microcomputers also drive a small control panel, and operators can control the system with that or with a laptop computer. While several groups across the world have developed low-cost emergency ventilators in recent months, the scientists believe their current invention stands out as a fancier version of the simplest ventilator design. They said they could build the ventilator at a cost less than USD 400 per unit, compared to USD 20,000 or more for a professional-grade system with field support.
“These qualities should make the ventilator particularly helpful for mid- and low-income countries, where medical resources are scarce,” said study co-author Michael Bressack from Stanford University. While the team or the university does not produce or distribute the ventilator, the researchers said they are offering the technology at no cost to others who want to build the ventilator and deploy it after having obtained regulatory approvals.
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