Indian engineers at MIT to develop open-source, low-cost ventilator for US

indica News Bureau-

One of the most pressing shortages facing hospitals during the COVID-19 emergency is a 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.

The United States, which as per latest projections is expecting between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths due to the coronavirus, requires thousands of ventilators in the next few weeks. It has roped in 11 private sector companies, including car manufacturers and plane makers to build ventilators.

The team, called MIT E-Vent (for emergency ventilator), was formed on March 12 in response to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

MIT in its official website wrote, “Its members were brought together by the exhortations of doctors, friends, and a sudden flood of mail referencing a project done a decade ago in the MIT class 2.75 (Medical Device Design). Students and faculty working in consultation with local physicians designed a simple ventilator device that could be built with about $100 worth of parts, although in the years since prices have gone up and the device would now cost $400 to $500 in materials. They published a paper detailing their design and testing, but the work ended at that point. Now, with a significant global need looming, a new team, linked to that course, has resumed the project at a highly accelerated pace.”

Mass production of low-cost ventilators by a group of Indian engineers with support from the MIT engineers and production advice from a US-based company, the US officials hope it would come as a big help to mankind which is racing against time in this fight against the deadly coronavirus.

“We are one of several teams who recognized the challenges faced by Italian physicians and are working to find a solution to the anticipated global lack of ventilators. In the US alone, the COVID-19 pandemic may cause ventilator shortages on the order of 300,000-700,000 units (CDC Pandemic Response Plans). These could present on a national scale within weeks, and are already being felt in certain areas,” said the E-vent statement.

However, the names of team members have not been made public yet.

“We are cheering on these Indian engineers as they race to build a low-cost ventilator — a potential game-changer for COVID19,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice G Wells tweeted.

With support from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers and production advice from a US-based company, “we hope this invention succeeds & can eventually be produced at large scale,” Wells wrote.

Taranjit Singh Sandhu, India’s Ambassador to the US, described this as an important step in the fight against COVID-19.

“Important steps in combating the COVID19,” the ambassador said in a tweet.

“Young engineers, with help from doctors and entrepreneurs in India and the US, are developing a low-cost ventilator that could save thousands of lives. Here’s wishing them success!” Sandhu said.

According to MIT news, 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. This is a task for skilled personnel, trained in how to evaluate the patient and adjust the timing and pressure of the pumping accordingly.

“We are releasing design guidance (clinical, mechanical, electrical/controls, testing) on a rolling basis as it is developed and documented,” one team member says. “We encourage capable clinical-engineering teams to work with their local resources, while following the main specs and safety information, and we welcome any input other teams may have.”

The all-volunteer team is working without funding and operating anonymously for now because many of them have already been swamped by inquiries from people wanting more information, and are concerned about being overwhelmed by calls that would interfere with their work on the project.

“We would really, really like to just stay focused,” says one team member. “And that’s one of the reasons why the website is so essential so that we can communicate with anyone who wants to read about what we are doing, and also so that others across the world can communicate with us.”

“The primary consideration is patient safety. So we had to establish what we’re calling minimum clinical functional requirements,” that is, the minimum set of functions that the device would need to perform to be both safe and useful says one of the team members, who is both an engineer and an MD. He says one of his jobs is to translate between the specialized languages used by the engineers and the medical professionals on the team.


[Photo Courtesy: MIT News]


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