As the coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen, medical centers around the world have started running short of vital supplies like masks, gloves, and disinfectants. Hospitals are also running critically low on ventilators, which can keep COVID-19 patients alive if the disease becomes severe. An MIT team has developed an open-source ventilator called the MIT E-Vent that could get regulatory approval soon.
The E-Vent is based on a project that started almost a decade ago as part of the MIT Precision Machine Design course. Unlike the expensive mechanical ventilators at hospitals, this is a manual ventilator that personnel would need to operate by hand. Students designed the device for use in rural areas and developing nations where mechanical ventilators were not available or reliable. The team built a prototype (above) and published a paper, but the project didn’t move beyond that.
With ventilators in such short supply, the abandoned project has been revived and submitted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under an “Emergency Use Authorization.” The FDA is conducting tests with pigs and could approve the design in the near future.
When MIT students did the initial work a decade ago, they estimated the device would cost about $100 to build. That’s considerably lower than the price tag on mechanical ventilators that are in such short supply. The current team didn’t just revive the existing design and call it a day, though. They made modifications to ensure the device would be easy to make and operate, and they developed a new metal frame for improved durability.
Only the most severe COVID-19 infections require a ventilator, which delivers oxygen at higher pressures to keep patients breathing. The US currently has about 170,000 ventilators in hospitals, but many experts warn that severe coronavirus cases could reach several hundred thousand.
Many people in the US are under orders to refrain from venturing outside except for essential travel, but the federal government has yet to issue any national rules. President Trump has also discussed “reopening” the economy as soon as early April against the advice of numerous medical professionals and infectious disease experts. These manual ventilators might not be ideal, but they could still save a lot of lives.
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