Coronavirus: MIT engineers produce open-source, low-cost $100 ventilator design

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep the world, with over 900,000 cases of infection across the world, and over 50,000 deaths, medical professionals are in dire need for ventilators to keep coronavirus patients breathing when they no longer can on their own.

Ventilators have become a commodity in extremely high demand, far outstripping the available supply. They typically cost approximately $30,000 each.

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Now, a group of engineers, physicians, and computer scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are working to produce an inexpensive alternative which can be built quickly around the world.

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

This ventilator design project was actually started a decade ago in an MIT class, where students working in tandem with medical professionals designed a simple ventilator that could be built with around $100 worth of parts.

The group published a paper in April 2010 detailing their design and testing, but the work on that project ended at that point. Now, with the dire global need looming, a new team, linked to that course, has resumed the project at a highly fast-tracked pace.

The design centers around mechanizing the hand-operated plastic pouch called the bag-valve resuscitator, or Ambu bag, which is a staple in most hospitals around the world, typically available in large quantities.

The standard Ambu bag is designed to be operated by hand to provide breaths to a patient in cases like cardiac arrest, until the patient is taken to a hospital where they are put on ventilators. The Ambu bag requires that a tube be inserted into the patient’s airway, and the pumping of air into the lungs is done by squeezing and releasing the plastic pouch rhythmically.

The Ambu bag cannot be used for extended periods of time as a person, as about one million squeezes would be required to support a patient in need of ventilation over the course of two weeks.

Therefore, the MIT team devised a mechanical system using an electric motor to do the squeezing and releasing in regular cycles that can be tailored to the patient’s needs.

“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.”

New versions have already been fabricated and are being prepared for additional functional tests. The MIT team says there is enough detailed information on their website, e-vent.mit.edu, to allow other teams to work in parallel with them, and they have included links to other teams that are working on similar design efforts.

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