NASA Has Designed and Built a Prototype High-Pressure Ventilator for Coronavirus Treatment

To help with COVID-19 treatment, a team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory developed a ventilator that recently underwent testing.

Some of the engineers involved in creating the ventilator prototype. (📷: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Despite the efforts of governments and individuals, the current COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread. As of this morning, there have been nearly a million confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States alone and more than three million worldwide. The actual infection numbers are likely much, much higher, because testing and reporting have been limited. While slowing the spread of the disease is incredibly important, we also need to be able to treat those who are already infected. To help with that treatment, engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have developed a new high-pressure ventilator.

COVID-19, like other coronaviruses, primarily attacks the respiratory system. While the severity of the symptoms varies dramatically from one patient to another, many people with COVID-19 have difficulty breathing unaided. That can be fatal if infected patients don’t get help breathing. Unfortunately, it was almost immediately apparent that there aren’t enough ventilators to go around in the United States and many other countries. To help manage that shortage, many organizations have developed emergency ventilators that can be quickly manufactured and put into use. Even some companies in unrelated industries, including Tesla, have promised to manufacture and distribute ventilators. NASA JPL recently threw their hat in the ring, and their device has just passed key tests.

This device, called VITAL (Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally), was developed in just over a month. It was then taken to the Mount Sinai Hospital’s Human Simulation Lab in the Department of Anesthesiology for testing. Dr. Matthew Levin oversaw that testing, and reports that the VITAL ventilator performed very well. He says that the testing team is confident that VITAL will be able to successfully treat COVID-19 patients. Like other ventilators, VITAL’s purpose is to pump air into a patient’s lungs in order to help them breathe. The plan is to offer a free license for medical device manufacturers to produce VITAL units so that they can be put into service as quickly as possible.

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