By Serena Gordon
MONDAY, April 13, 2020 (HealthDay News) – With the sudden need for more ventilators due to the coronavirus pandemic, researchers have been busy trying to find alternatives to a standard ventilator.
Engineers at Georgia Tech and Emory University in Atlanta think they may have developed such a device. They have created a simple and inexpensive ventilator that is based on the widely used resuscitation bags found in ambulances and emergency departments everywhere.
“COVID-19 infection has an alarmingly high rate of respiratory distress associated with it, especially in certain vulnerable populations. The need for critical care beds, which are ventilator beds, is acute, and health systems have not been expanded to the number of patients who will need mechanical ventilation assistance in this country and around the world, “explained Susan Margulies, president of biomedical engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.
Margulies said her team thought “the quickest way to have an impact would be to look at devices that are already used to support ventilation.”
Engineers focused on resuscitation bags, which are already used to manually push air into the lungs by squeezing the bag. The challenge was to transform it into a mechanical device and do it with as few pieces as possible.
They came up with a device that uses two resuscitation bags, cheap metal, plastic gears, and a simple power source. The device can be powered by an electrical outlet or a 12-volt vehicle battery.
Because it uses two bags, the emergency ventilator can be used on two patients. However, the air flow for each person is completely separate.
The device can be shipped nearly flat and then reassembled when needed. If necessary, the device kits could be assembled using hand tools, the researchers explained.
The system is designed to be used temporarily until a standard fan is available. But Margulies said the system could be used for longer periods of time.
He said he doesn’t know what the cost would be yet, but he thinks it would probably cost hundreds of dollars, rather than the thousands that traditional fans cost.
Margulies said the amount and speed of air entering the lungs can be adjusted, and can be varied from patient to patient.
So what is missing from this inexpensive fan?
Dr. John Osborne is director of cardiology at the State of the Heart Cardiology in Dallas, and was not part of the study team. He said this resuscitation bag device does not have the electronics that monitor air pressure and sound alarms.
“This is not a full blower. It doesn’t have monitors, pressure sensors, and alarms. I think this could be used for short and emergent periods of time. I don’t think people will be using it for weeks.” He said.
But, Osborne said, the lack of electronics and monitors is also what makes this solution interesting.
“I love its simplicity. They are starting with a sound process that we already use, the ‘ambu bag’, which is a proven principle and then they add some mechanisms to it. And certainly where is the choice of this device and nothing, this is a great option, “he said.
And Osborne noted that this was not the only device in development.
“This current crisis will make us think outside the box and find new solutions. We may end up with valuable options in the future,” he said.
Once the coronavirus pandemic has passed, Margulies said this device could also save lives in developing countries without access to traditional fans. The research team is now looking for a manufacturing partner.
Here’s Shannon Yee from Georgia Tech explaining how the new fan was designed: