A team of researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is creating designs to turn inexpensive and readily available manual, hand-held, bag valve mask (BVM) resuscitators into automated ventilators that could be used to fill the deep gap between the number of life-saving ventilators available and the much larger number that will be needed when COVID-19 is expected to peak.
The WPI researchers are going to make designs of multiple devices and their components publicly available so anyone with a 3D printer and a background in electronics and mechanical engineering could use them to produce ventilators for their local hospitals. A manufacturing company also could use the designs to produce ventilators quickly and at scale.
“I just wanted to do something to help,” said Gregory Fischer, professor of robotics engineering and mechanical engineering, and director of the PracticePoint Medical Cyber-Physcial Systems R&D Center, who spearheaded the idea. “A lot of people are trying to contribute, and this is an area where we can make an impact. We’re taking things that are used every day in emergency medicine and finding a way to turn them into safe, reliable, and readily replicable ventilators that can save patients’ lives. And we’re sharing those designs with the world.”
After getting advice about what hospitals need from clinicians, Fischer, who had worked as an EMT in his hometown, began putting the plan together to coordinate different groups of WPI researchers to begin creating their own designs. The expectation is to post multiple designs—some for individual components of the system (including valve and sensor modules), one for a simple and readily replicable actuated ventilator, and one for a more automated and complex system. That way people or companies looking to create a system can either use a full design or use a design for a component that they’ve been missing or having trouble creating.
The ventilators built from these designs are not meant to replicate the full-feature functionality of a commercial system; they are meant to be used for more stable patients so the commercial ventilators with more advanced sensing and control can be saved for critical patients.
As the COVID-19 pandemic quickly spreads around the world, the United States has become a hotspot. The virus, which is more lethal than the seasonal flu, attacks people’s lungs, in some cases compromising their ability to breathe and leading to pneumonia. COVID-19 patients are dying because they can't get enough oxygen to their bloodstream, causing organ failure.
According to the American Hospital Association, 96 million Americans are expected to test positive for COVID-19, with 4.8 million requiring hospitalization and 960,000 needing a ventilator, which pumps air into the patients’ lungs through a tube that has been inserted into their windpipes. While those needing ventilators won’t all be ill at the same time, the U.S. only has about 200,000 ventilators, reports the Society of Critical Care Medicine. And the ventilators available aren’t always where they are most needed.