NASA Develops New Ventilator to Aid Hospitals

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California prepare to ship a prototype ventilator for coronavirus patients to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

(CN) — Engineers at NASA announced Thursday they have developed a new and urgently needed ventilator designed specifically to treat coronavirus patients — and it took them just 37 days to do it.

These potentially life saving machines can help pump much needed oxygen into a patient’s lungs that are otherwise struggling to breath independently, but a world gripped by a respiratory-based virus has recently shown just how crucial — and seemingly hard to come by — these devices can be.

In light of this, expert engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California have decided to do their part by designing an entirely new type of ventilator known as the VITAL (Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally), that was rapidly designed with the specific needs of coronavirus patients in mind.

Michael Watkins, director of the lab, says the creation of these types of devices is not something NASA typically specializes in, but the gravity of the moment inspired engineers to offer whatever help they could in such trying times.

“We specialize in spacecraft, not medical-device manufacturing,” Watkins said in a press statement. “But excellent engineering, rigorous testing and rapid prototyping are some of our specialties. When people at JPL realized they might have what it takes to support the medical community and the broader community, they felt it was their duty to share their ingenuity, expertise and drive.”

Researchers at NASA say that the ventilator distinguishes itself from other ventilators in a few crucial ways. For one, the VITAL is made from far few parts than traditional ventilators, making it easier to maintain and much faster to build.

Engineers say that because building the ventilator requires less exhaustive components, many manufacturers around the country may already have the kind of supply chains and resources needed to construct the device.

Engineers also report that ventilator’s design was made to be incredibly flexible and friendly to any potential modification. This makes it an ideal tool to be deployed in more unconventional settings, such as the numerous field hospitals that have been rapidly constructed to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The more simplistic build of the ventilator means that it is built solely with consideration towards the needs of Covid-19 patients. While most ventilators are built to be long-lasting machines that can be used to treat a host of respiratory issues, the VITAL works in a more exact capacity.

It is only intended to work for around three to four months and serves as the high-pressure type of ventilator that medical personnel can use to help specifically treat Covid-19 patients.

Dr. J.D. Polk, NASA’s chief health and medical officer, said that as more medical professionals are dealing with patients who require more advanced medical assistance, the goal of this type of ventilator is to help prevent patients from ever reaching that point in the first place.

“Intensive care units are seeing COVID-19 patients who require highly dynamic ventilators,” Polk said in a press statement. “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.”

Engineers say the device is already tracking well towards production. NASA’s new ventilator recently passed a crucial test earlier this week at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, an area that has been hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

To ensure that the device receives critical and quality input from other specialists, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently submitted a protype of the VITAL device to the Human Simulation Lab in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Mount Sinai for additional tests – tests that have so far showed much promise.

“We were very pleased with the results of the testing we performed in our high-fidelity human simulation lab,” Dr. Matthew Levin, at the Icahn School of Medicine, said in a press statement. “The NASA prototype performed as expected under a wide variety of simulated patient conditions. The team feels confident that the VITAL ventilator will be able to safely ventilate patients suffering from COVID-19 both here in the United States and throughout the world.”

NASA reports that the next step for the device is to get officially green-lit by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Engineers are doing this by requesting an emergency use authorization, a process designed for times of national crisis that can see important devices like VITAL fast-tracked towards approval in just days.

An office for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said it has already begun to reach out to players in the medical device industry to see the device through to production.

These potential manufacturers will be given special licenses to build the ventilator free of charge.

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