The ongoing COVID-19 emergency affecting nearly the entire globe is making medical ventilators into a hot commodity. During normal times, busy intensive care units can expect to use a dozen or so ventilators at the same time. As a respiratory virus, COVID-19 can make breathing on one’s own impossible, so ventilators are expected to be in dire shortage almost everywhere.
A group of MIT engineers are working to submit a variant of the MIT E-Vent design to the FDA, under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), a ventilator made out of a bag valve mask (aka Ambu-Bags) and readily available electronics, actuators, and motors. Bag valve masks are themselves found near every hospital bed in case emergency oxygenation is necessary, so they should be in sufficient supply already.
The E-Vent, as the new ventilator is called, uses a plastic device to squeeze on the pump of the bag valve mask and so provide breathing assistance to the patient. Its design has been made open source and the designers are inviting others to help refine it, test it, and to provide feedback on any potential issues or improvements.
Because using a bag valve mask to provide ventilation for extended periods of time has never been tried in clinical practice, there’s certainly a concern about the effectiveness of this approach. Nevertheless, given the circumstances we’re in, we may have to end up trying the E-Vent and similar devices on patients if there’s no other options available. To help alleviate legal concerns, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued a liability immunity for potential medical tools that may help with the COVID-19 epidemic.