NASA engineers have developed a new, easy-to-build high-pressure ventilator tailored specifically to treat COVID-19 patients.
The device, called VITAL (Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally), passed a critical test this week at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York, an epicentre of COVID-19 in the US, NASA said.
VITAL is designed to treat patients with milder symptoms, thereby keeping country’s limited supply of traditional ventilators available for patients with more severe COVID-19 symptoms, it said.
“We specialise in spacecraft, not medical-device manufacturing,” said Michael Watkins, Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
“But excellent engineering, rigorous testing and rapid prototyping are some of our specialties. When people at JPL realized they might have what it takes to support the medical community and the broader community, they felt it was their duty to share their ingenuity, expertise and drive,” Watkins said.
NASA is now seeking FDA approval for the device via an emergency use authorization, a fast-track approval process developed for crisis situations that takes just days rather than years, the US space agency said.
“We were very pleased with the results of the testing we performed in our high-fidelity human simulation lab,” said Matthew Levin, Associate Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine.
“The NASA prototype performed as expected under a wide variety of simulated patient conditions. The team feels confident that the VITAL ventilator will be able to safely ventilate patients suffering from COVID-19 both here in the US and throughout the world,” Levin said.
VITAL can be built faster and maintained more easily than a traditional ventilator, and is composed of far fewer parts, many of which are currently available to potential manufacturers through existing supply chains, NASA said.
Its flexible design means it also can be modified for use in field hospitals being set up in convention centres, hotels, and other high-capacity facilities across the country and around the globe, the agency said.
Like all ventilators, VITAL requires patients to be sedated and an oxygen tube inserted into their airway to breathe.
The new device wouldn’t replace current hospital ventilators, which can last years and are built to address a broader range of medical issues.
Instead, VITAL is intended to last three to four months and is specifically tailored for COVID-19 patients, according to NASA.
“Intensive care units are seeing COVID-19 patients who require highly dynamic ventilators,” said J D Polk, NASA’s chief health and medical officer.
“The intention with VITAL is to decrease the likelihood patients will get to that advanced stage of the disease and require more advanced ventilator assistance,” Polk said.