To help cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, NASA engineers have developed an inexpensive and easy-to-build high-pressure ventilator. The Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally (VITAL) prototype was completed in only 37 days at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and passed a critical trial at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City on April 21, 2020.
Fears of a ventilator shortage due to the COVID-19 outbreak has spurred a number of companies to step up and try and help fill the gap, but ventilators are very complicated, robust machines designed to last for years and treat a number of different medical conditions. This means that they are also expensive, slow to build, and require specialized components.
To overcome these obstacles, NASA engineers designed VITAL specifically for COVID-19 patients using fewer parts – many of which are commonly available. This made the machine simpler, faster to build, and easier to maintain. In addition, the design is easy to modify to meet the needs of different facilities, including field hospitals and makeshift care centers set up in convention centers and hotels. On the downside, VITAL patients still need to be sedated and intubated with an oxygen tube, and the machine has a service life of only up to four months.
In addition, NASA says that the Office of Technology Transfer and Corporate Partnerships at Caltech, which manages JPL, will offer a free license for VITAL and is seeking private medical firms to handle manufacturing. Meanwhile, the space agency is trying to cut through the red tape at the US FDA to get an emergency authorization in days instead of years and has sent one of the prototypes to the Human Simulation Lab in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Mount Sinai for more testing.
“Intensive care units are seeing COVID-19 patients who require highly dynamic ventilators,” says Dr. J.D. Polk, NASA’s chief health and medical officer. “The intention with VITAL is to decrease the likelihood patients will get to that advanced stage of the disease and require more advanced ventilator assistance.”
The video below discusses the VITAL project.
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