Researchers at Worcester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute (WPI) are touting a design for turning inexpensive bag valve mask (BVM) resuscitators into automated ventilators to aid the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.
The WPI team is designing the ventilators from readily available, manual BVM resuscitators so that they can fill the gap between the number of ventilators available and the number needed when COVID-19 is expected to peak, according to a news release.
Anyone with a 3D printer and a background in electronics and mechanical engineering may be able to produce the ventilators for a local hospital, as the researchers intend to make designs of multiple devices and components publicly available. The researchers also believe a manufacturing company can use the designs to make the ventilators quickly and at scale.
“I just wanted to do something to help,” WPI professor of robotics engineering & mechanical engineering & director of the PracticePoint Medical Cyber-Physical Systems R&D Center Gregory Fischer said in the news release. “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.”
Fischer noted that the plan is to post multiple designs to give people or companies a chance to create a system with either a full design or an individual design for a particular component.
Despite the potential of these devices to help during the coronavirus crisis, they are not meant to replicate the full-feature functionality of the commercial systems that are in hospitals right now. Instead, the WPI team intends for them to be used for more stable patients, allowing the full-feature ones to be saved for patients in more critical conditions.
The team, spearheaded by Fischer, includes WPI professors Marko Popovic, Cagdas Onal and Dirk Albrecht, as well as research scientist Chris Nycz, robotics engineering doctoral candidate Paulo Carvalho and biomedical engineering PhD student Hamilton White.
Together, the team is creating a design that it expects to cost less than $500 and be made with readily available components. Similar homemade ventilators have also been touted elsewhere as research teams seek to help amid the shortage of the more expensive products.
“I like the idea of taking these cheap, readily available manual devices and converting them into something that can be run autonomously,” Fischer said. “Normally an EMT would be squeezing the bag to keep the flow of air going. We can automate that squeezing, and we’re adding pressure and CO2 sensors so it can maintain minimum and maximum pressures, and ensure appropriate air exchange. It will provide a consistent respiratory cycle.”
Fischer and the WPI team intend to follow up with the FDA when designs are ready to seek some kind of clearance or authorization.
Last week, the FDA put out a statement confirming its stance on issuing emergency use authorizations for potential temporary fixes. Emergency use authorization (EUA) is available for devices such as previously unapproved ventilators, anesthesia gas machines modified for use as ventilators and positive pressure breathing devices modified for use as ventilators. However, the administration has not yet confirmed its stance on whether the “DIY”-style devices could receive authorization.