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Prototype created by Irish research team for crowd funded emergency ventilators

The GoFundMe page for the ventilators has raised over €134,000 so far.

Image: Shutterstock/sfam_photo

IRISH RESEARCHERS WHO crowdfunded to develop an easy-to-build and inexpensive ventilator for Covid-19 patients have built a prototype and are working “around the clock” to push it to the manufacturing stage by the end of April. 

A group of Irish researchers, who collaborated with experts in research institutions in Ireland and the UK, set up a GoFundMe page on 17 March with a target of €50,000. 

They reached this target quickly and as of publication, have raised more than €134,000. A prototype was completed last Friday and the team hopes to be ready for manufacturing by the end of April.

“In this field, we would normally looking at four or five years instead of four or five weeks,” Aaron Hannon, who works in the school of medicine in NUI Galway and set up the fundraising page, told TheJournal.ie.  

The Covid Response Team (CRT) is made up of engineers, doctors and students seeking funding to develop and manufacture emergency ventilators. 

564 patients with Covid-19 have been hospitalised so far in Ireland and 77 of these have been admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU). 

The chief operations officer of the HSE said yesterday that their modelling predicts the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in Ireland will occur in two weeks’ time, between 10 and 14 April. 

“We’re in a really good place at the moment and we have been absolutely inundated with support,” Hannon said. 

He said the team was “really humbled” by the response from the public as well as workers in a variety of different fields who got in touch to offer help. 

The CRT has been working in collaboration with engineering teams in Boston Scientific in Galway. 

They completed a moving, pumping prototype of the ventilator last Friday and have been working on it since.

“We have developed a completely mechanical system that’s quite cleverly engineered,” Hannon said. 

He said this prototype will be adapted as changes are needed. Normally, Hannon explained, ventilators use a lot of different electronics and software.

These may not be readily available in the coming weeks as the healthcare system becomes more in demand. 

He said their device is made up of a series of mechanical camshafts and gear wheels in charge of vital controls such as the volume of air, the peak pressure and the maximum air pressure to the patient. 

“We’ve been working around the clock – rapidly creating prototypes, getting inputs from medical device consultants,” Hannon said.  

The next step in this process is clinical and regulatory assessment to “see what boundaries we need to meet to keep the patient safe”. 

Project lead John Wallace said the team has made “spectacular progress” since the fundraising page was set up on 17 March. 

“We have in-house testing and we’re going back and refining and revising,” Wallace said.  

He said proper structure testing on the prototype will take place later this week. 

“This is one of those things where you’re developing technology and you’re hoping you will be asked to produce none because it’s not needed,” he said.  

He said depending on the team’s capacity, they could produce up to hundreds of ventilators a week if their device continues to the manufacturing stage.  

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International progress 

In the UK, a breathing aid that can help keep Covid-19 patients out of intensive care has been developed by mechanical engineers, medics and the Mercedes Formula One team.

The device, known as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), has been used extensively in hospitals in Italy and China to help coronavirus patients and bridges the gap between an oxygen mask and the need for full ventilation, which requires sedation and an invasive procedure.

A team from University College London (UCL) and University College London Hospital (UCLH) have worked with Mercedes Formula One to adapt and improve existing CPAP in a process known as reverse engineering.

The device has now been recommended for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which approves medical devices in the UK, UCL said.

The adapted device was developed in under 100 hours from an initial meeting to production of the first CPAP.

Reports from Italy suggest around half of patients given CPAP have avoided the need for invasive mechanical ventilation.

UCLH critical care consultant Professor Mervyn Singer said: “These devices will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill.”

With reporting by Press Association   

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