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Simple, Inexpensive Ventilator Developed [Updated]

Automated BVM device

Rice University engineer Fernando Cruz holds a bag valve mask. (Jeff Fitlow, Rice University)

UPDATE 3 Apr. 2020. Open-source design and plans for the automated bag-valve mask ventilator are now available for download on the Rice University web site. Free registration is required.

30 Mar. 2020. An engineering team created a simple automated ventilator with easy-to-make and available parts to help people in respiratory distress keep breathing. The ApolloBVM or bag-valve mask is a product of Rice University’s engineering design center in Houston and the medical design company Metric Technologies in Vancouver, British Columbia, which are making the product specifications freely available online.

A bag-valve mask is a standard, ubiquitous piece of medical equipment that attaches to an oxygen source, and a manually-squeezed bag to help people with weakened or impaired lungs keep breathing. Last year, an engineering student project at Rice designed an automated mechanism to replace the manual squeezing, thus relieving staff or family members of the patient from an hours-long task. The student device — created months before the first case of Covid-19 appeared — is made with off-the-shelf or 3-D printed plastic parts, with settings for adults, children, and infants.

The upgraded ApolloBVM ventilator keeps the original, simple basic design, but adds medical-grade automated robotic control of the mechanism compressing the breathing bag. The prototype system is controlled with a programmable open-source Arduino circuit board, but the design is built to eventually accommodate a microcontroller to read feedback sensors and more precisely support a patient’s breathing. Nonetheless, say the developers, the system can still be built for less than $300.

Rohith Malya, a professor of emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and a biomedical engineering faculty member at Rice, was an adviser to the student team, and now leads the ApolloBVM project. Malya says the project has been led from the beginning by clinicians. “This is a clinician-informed end-to-end design,” says Malya in a university statement, “that repurposes the existing BVM global inventory toward widespread and safe access to mechanical ventilation.”

Metric Technologies, where Malya is a principle, is assisting in the design of the ApolloBVM. On Friday, two of Metric’s founders, Harvey Hawes and Abdullah Saleh, with Malya and several other authors, published a white paper outlining the immediate need and design concepts for ventilators to help the rapidly growing number of patients with Covid-19 requiring these devices.

The paper, published by by a group called Safe Affordable Ventilators for All, notes that from 5 to 10 percent of Covid-19 patients will develop severe symptoms needing ventilation, and the U.S. alone has a ventilator deficit of 740,000 units. The authors recommend mass producing low-cost and low-capacity devices for people with light to moderate needs, and devoting higher-capacity units to Covid-19 patients with more serious breathing problems.

Amy Kavalewitz, executive director of Rice’s engineering design center notes the ApolloBVM is intended for Covid-19 patients in respiratory distress needing breathing help, but not yet in need of a full-scale ventilator. “The immediate goal,” says Kavalewitz, “is a device that works well enough to keep non-critical Covid-19 patients stable and frees up larger ventilators for more critical patients.”

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