HOUSTON – (March 27, 2020) – Rice University and Canadian global health design firm Metric Technologies have developed an automated bag valve mask ventilation unit that can be built for less than $300 worth of parts and help patients in treatment for COVID-19. The collaboration expects to share the plans for the ventilator by making them freely available online to anyone in the world.
Faculty and students went into overdrive several weeks ago when requests began pouring into the university seeking plans for an early prototype developed in 2019 by Rice engineering seniors.
That team, which called itself Take a Breather, designed and built a programmable device able to squeeze a bag valve mask. These masks are typically carried by emergency medical personnel to help get air into the lungs of people having difficulty breathing on their own. But the masks are difficult to squeeze by hand for more than a few minutes at a time.
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Dr. Rohith Malya, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, an adjunct assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice and associate of the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health and a principal at Metric Technologies, recognized the need to automate the masks not only for emergencies where hospital ventilators are in short supply but also for developing nations where such equipment is not available at all.
The first criterion certainly applies now, with a global shortage of ventilators threatening the population as the novel coronavirus spreads.
Rice administrators, staff and students gathered to see how quickly they could develop a more robust prototype built primarily of 3D-printed and laser-cut parts. Their solution, designed and prototyped within a week, is a reconfiguration of the original rack-and-pinion device and designed to be not only medical grade, but also inexpensive enough to be considered disposable.
The small team worked in the Brown School of Engineering's Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK), where the original project came together last spring. The OEDK is usually hopping at this time of year as Rice senior engineering students race to finish their capstone design requirements. With students hunkered down and taking their classes online, the facility provided a quiet refuge for the ApolloBVM team as it worked around the clock to build the device.
The Department of Defense is one of the groups interested in ApolloBVM. The U.S. Navy invited several institutions to submit proposals to develop a low-cost, mechanical ventilation support system that can be rapidly produced with widely available resources.