Ventilator shortage due to COVID-19 to be eased with UK-designed, modern, iron lung

April 9, 2020

The fast spread of the COVID-19 virus has overwhelmed healthcare systems in many countries with the most obvious difficulty being that Intermittent Positive Pressure Ventilators (IPPV) – which aid breathing in people whose lungs have been heavily affected by the virus – are in short supply. They are also complex, expensive and require constant monitoring by trained personnel as the patient must be intubated and sedated. However, British engineers are designing a simple, inexpensive alternative to help these patients. The device they are working on is essentially a modified “iron lung” or a Negative Pressure Ventilator (NPV) called the “exovent.”

Like a classic iron lung, the exovent is a large, airtight cylindrical chamber enclosing only the thorax. Inside the chamber is a diaphragm hooked to an electric motor. As the motor turns and the diaphragm expands/contracts, the volume inside the chamber changes, causing the air pressure to rise and fall. This, in turn, provides breathing support to its occupant.

Most importantly, unlike IPPVs, the exovent does not require intubation – patients can remain awake, eat and drink, and talk to their loved ones on the phone thanks to the exovent’s much simpler design and operation. The customisable exovent does not use compressed air/oxygen, has only a few moving parts, and readily available components. Moreover, it can be used in regular wards, thus leaving ICU beds for more serious medical cases.

According to the consortium responsible for the exovent, which includes a team at the University of Warwick and the Imperial NHS Trust, the machine also improves heart efficiency by 25%, over conventional ventilators, which bodes well with cardiac functions.

Margot James, Executive Chair, Warwick Manufacturing Group, the University of Warwick, revealed, “Our engineers and researchers are collaborating with the exovent team on the design, engineering, component sourcing and assembly of their non-invasive ventilator.”

“We are delighted to be working with exovent to help scale up their prototype to volume manufacturing,” she added.

The exovent will be tested at two intensive care clinics in the UK. Once approved, at least 5,000 of these machines could be manufactured weekly in the UK.

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Category: Technology & Devices

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