ANN ARBOR, MI (MLIVE) — University of Michigan and Michigan Medicine researchers have invented a device that allows multiple patients to share a single ventilator, increasing the capacity to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients.
The VentMI splits oxygen output from a single ventilator to two patients, taking some pressure off hospitals to acquire additional ventilators during a time when healthcare systems across the globe need additional vital equipment for treating patients with the novel coronavirus,.
In severe cases, COVID-19 can cause severe breathing problems that require a patient to use a ventilator to push oxygen into the lungs while their body fights off the infection.
One of the challenges in ventilator use during the pandemic is that the machines will only deliver pre-set pressure to all patients sharing the same ventilator, meaning patients must have similarly sized lungs with equal stiffness, UM experts said in a news release. Otherwise, additional pressure or oxygen volume may cause lung trauma.
The VentMI works like a scuba tank regulator, releasing highly compressed oxygen slowly at the pressure a patient’s lungs need to breathe, the inventors said. The device also has one-way valves and filters to prevent one patient’s cough from going to the other’s lungs.
He said the specialized device uses a process similar to a scuba tank regulator, which adjusts pressure to release oxygen slowly so as not to overwhelm one patient’s lungs.
“We had a really fast process on this,” said Glenn Green, a UM professor and doctor specializing in otolaryngology and head and neck surgery who worked on the VentMI. “The idea came up on around (March) 22nd when we saw how bad things were looking, how things were accelerating and what the models looked like before the lockdown came into place. We had a submission to the FDA within three weeks of that time period.”
A core team of four researchers had help from nearly 100 others, Green said. Prototypes were created with a 3D printer, but the actual devices are being made out of aluminum. Autocam Medical’s facilities in Grand Rapids will manufacture the device, according to the release. Hundreds will be available for public distribution before the end of April.
Kyle VanKoevering, a Michigan Medicine doctor who helped develop the VentMI, said the tool can increase a hospital’s capacity to treat patients with equipment they have.
“We were looking for innovative ways to potentially help hospitals that were preparing for a ventilator shortage during the pandemic,” VanKoevering said. “Our design would have much broader use because it solves the problem of different ventilatory requirements and monitoring for people that have different lung sizes and degrees of disease.”
Ann Arbor start-up MakeMedical, in which several of the researchers have equity, licensed the technology and made it into the device after UM filed for patent protection. The VentMI was tested in the lab and on pigs, according to the news release.
It received emergency use authorization from the FDA, allowing the device’s use on humans. MakeMedical said it would provide the device at cost, about $500, to other institutions, with no profit to the university or the company. Hospital-grade ventilators can cost up to $50,000.
While Michigan Medicine is among hospitals that currently have adequate ventilator capacity, according to the release, the researchers wanted to make the device available to any healthcare systems expecting a shortage.
“We plan to make the devices available to be used across the world,” VanKoevering said. “Our goal is to help provide lifesaving care to every critically ill patient who needs it during this pandemic.”
Hospitals and centers that are interested in receiving the device, may make inquiries online.