A low-cost ventilator for areas with limited means

By May 18, 2020IBEC

Daniel Navajas, Group Leader at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC, a BIST centre) has contributed to a project led by the University of Barcelona which has created a non-invasive low-cost ventilator to support patients with respiratory diseases in areas with limited means.

Non-invasive ventilators are usually used to treat patients with respiratory failure like those with severe complications due to COVID-19 for example.

Experts from the Biophysics and Bioengineering Unit of the University of Barcelona (​​IN2UB) the August Pi i Sunyer Institute for Biomedical Research (IDIBAPS), the Respiratory Diseases Networking Biomedical Research Centre (CIBERES) and the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC, a BIST centre) have developed a prototype of a low-cost non-invasive ventilator.

All the details and technical features related to the use of this ventilator can be found in an article published recently in the European Respiratory Journal. In this work, the authors report that the prototype is non-invasive, which means that it provides air through facial or nasal masks that introduce pressurized air into the lungs.

The ventilator can be built at a very affordable price using commercial components. It can also easily be replicated and is intended for hospitals and health systems to help cover the demand of respiratory equipment due to the coronavirus and other severe lung diseases.

According to the experts, this ventilator supports the natural breathing process when a disease causes the lungs to fail, but is not aimed at those patients with severe cases who are intubated and need a mechanical ventilator in the intensive care unit.

For the construction of the respirator, the researchers carried out several tests using a small high-pressure turbine, two pressure transducers, and a monitor with a digital screen. To assess the efficiency of the prototype the experts tested it in twelve healthy volunteers whose breathing was obstructed to simulate different levels of lung rigidity and respiratory obstruction.

Participants wore facial masks over their nose to ease breathing and marked their feeling of comfort or discomfort, both with and without a respiratory support. The researchers observed that the ventilator adapted to the spontaneous breathing rhythm and provided a feeling of breathing relief similar to a commercial ventilator.

The team also conducted other tests using lung simulators to assess the response of the ventilator in patients with different levels of air flow obstruction and lung rigidity. This test was performed in sixteen different simulation situations and in all the simulated cases the prototype of the ventilator was efficient enough, allowing the lungs to breathe well.

More information can be found on the IBEC website.