It took a UCLA Biodesign Fellow one week to build a working, low-cost ventilator prototype from parts purchased at Home Depot. If additional development with medical-grade materials, further testing and clinical studies yield positive results, the device could have the potential to provide much-needed support in treating patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mechanical ventilators in today's hospitals are highly sophisticated, powerful devices capable of adapting to the varying needs of patients with a wide range of pulmonary disorders, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. These full-featured ventilators are complex and expensive, costing from $30,000 to $50,000 and requiring dedicated software to administer high concentrations of oxygen to assist patients in respiratory distress.
But treatment of COVID-19 does not require that level of sophistication, and the new prototype — a sort of “ventilator-lite” — might provide the essential lifesaving functions at a fraction of the price. Glen Meyerowitz, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, watched with alarm as news reports and medical professionals predicted a severe shortage of ventilators needed to treat the projected surge in COVID-19 patients. He looked at research coming out of Seattle, China and other disease hot spots around the world; reviewed widely accepted treatment protocols; and consulted with clinicians from around the U.S. — including several from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA — to determine the exact functionalities needed in a device.
His review of clinical research and discussion with more than a dozen medical professionals confirmed that COVID-19 patients often need treatment for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which has a much narrower treatment regimen than that needed by many patients typically seen in an ICU. He set out to design a smaller, simpler device capable of providing the standard level of care for ARDS — the ARDSnet protocol — but without the extra features and price tag of a standard machine.
Early tests were encouraging, and Meyerowitz has been in contact with several design and manufacturing firms to begin medical-grade production of the devices for testing at the UCLA Simulation Center in preparation for an institutional review board study at UCLA Health. “Direct collaboration with UCLA Health’s clinical community is key to identifying and optimizing the specific features needed for this unique clinical challenge,” Meyerowitz says, adding that the team is working with the UCLA Department of Anesthesiology to best replicate the conditions that clinicians are facing.
Meyerowitz’s work was supported by UCLA Health’s UCLA Biodesign Fellowship. “In the COVID-19 crisis, Glen saw a possible opportunity to transform the practice of medicine and individual patient lives in an immediate and profound way,” says Desert Horse-Grant, senior executive director of UCLA Health Research and Innovation and co-executive director of UCLA Biodesign. “This low-cost ventilator prototype is an excellent example of how interdisciplinary teams at UCLA Health are collaborating to find medical solutions,” adds Jennifer McCaney, co-executive director of UCLA Biodesign.
Although Meyerowitz and the team are not yet able to predict the final price tag, they expect the ventilators might be mass produced in the $1,000 range per unit.
— Sandy Van