Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will soon publish the design of an emergency ventilator that can be assembled for as little as $100.

Ventilators are an essential part of any healthcare facility and they have become indispensable during the COVID-19 pandemic

Hospitals have been overwhelmed with patients and the shortage of life-saving equipment is growing as the Coronavirus continues to wreak havoc around the world.

Normally, a ventilator costs around $30,000. But, a team of engineers, physicians, computer scientists and other specialists at MIT, is working towards implementing a safe and inexpensive design of the device which can be assembled anywhere.

History to the design

A decade ago, students of the MIT class Medical Device Design published a paper  containing the design and prototype of a low-cost portable mechanical ventilator in consultation with local physicians.

After publishing the paper, the students never tried to expand their project.

But now, in the wake of a global crisis and an acute shortage of life-saving equipment, some students linked with the prototype have got together to resume the unfinished work at a faster pace.

Design of the ventilator

The simple, inexpensive ventilator is known as the MIT E-Vent. The most important component of the E-vent is a hand-operated plastic pouch called a bag-valve resuscitator or Ambu bag.

Hospitals have Ambu bags in abundance. The hand-operated plastic pouches are designed to be operated by medical professionals in an emergency situation.

For instance, during a cardiac arrest, a tube attached to the Ambu bag is placed in the patient’s airway similar to a hospital ventilator to help them breathe. But, the air is pumped by squeezing and releasing the bag.

Only a medical professional skilled in evaluating emergency situations can adjust the timing and pressure of pumping the air into the patient’s airway until the patient is brought to the hospital ventilator.

The MIT E-Vent team has formulated a mechanical system that could perform the squeezing and releasing of the Ambu bag on its own since no medical professional could be expected to perform the two functions for long time periods.

Safety of the device

Because an unexpected failure of the ventilator can prove to be fatal, the MIT E-Vent team is rigorously testing the design and prototype before publishing a final version of it.

To help inexperienced medical professionals in assembling the E-Vent from scratch, the MIT researchers have also launched a website where verified resources regarding the design of the ventilator can be found.

One team member working on E-Vent said:

We are releasing design guidance (clinical, mechanical, electrical/controls, testing) on a rolling basis as it is developed and documented. The team encourages capable clinical-engineering teams to work with their local resources, while following the main specs and safety information, and we welcome any input other teams may have.

We can exchange our work with other people around the world through the website, said another team member.

That’s one of the reasons why the website is so essential so that we can communicate with anyone who wants to read about what we are doing, and also so that others across the world can communicate with us.

Recently, the US Department of Health and Human Services has exempted all medical interventions linked with COVID-19 from seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But the team still aims to get FDA’s approval citing a burder of care.