Imagine a class project from over a decade ago ended up holding the solution to a global issue? Well that’s the case for a class of students from MIT, who are drawing from an old project to solve one of the most pressing shortages facing hospitals today: the lack of ventilators.
These machines can keep patients breathing when they no longer can on their own, and they can cost around $30,000 each. Now, a rapidly assembled volunteer team of engineers, physicians, computer scientists, and others, centered at MIT, is working to implement a safe, inexpensive alternative for emergency use, which could be built quickly around the world.
A decade ago, an MIT class called Medical Device Design had an assignment in which the students worked with local physicians to design a simple ventilator device that could be built with about $100 worth of parts. They published a paper detailing their design and testing, but the work ended at that point.
With a significant global need looming, a new team, linked to that course, has resumed the project at a highly accelerated pace. The key to the simple, inexpensive ventilator alternative is a hand-operated plastic pouch called a bag-valve resuscitator, or Ambu bag, which hospitals already have on hand in large quantities.
These are designed to be operated by hand, by a medical professional or emergency technician, to provide breaths to a patient in situations like cardiac arrest, until an intervention such as a ventilator becomes available. A tube is inserted into the patient’s airway, as with a hospital ventilator, but then the pumping of air into the lungs is done by squeezing and releasing the flexible pouch.
When the team has perfected the device, they will publish a guide to reproducing it online for free so that others can quickly build the ventilator for the hospitals that need it most.