Particle Physicists Pivot to Produce the Mechanical Ventilator Milano (MVM) for COVID-19 Patients

Taking a break from search for dark matter, a team of over 250 physicists and engineers have released a novel, low-cost ventilator design.

The first 1,000 MVM units are due to go into production next week. (📷: Stefano Ghionna, Studio Volpi)

A team of particle physicists, having had to put their work on detecting dark matter on hold owing to the spread of SARS-CoV-2, has become the latest to launch a low-cost simplified ventilator design, the Mechanical Ventilator Milano, to assist patients with COVID-19.

The spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, formerly known as the novel coronavirus, has been rapid, and healthcare infrastructure across the globe is struggling to respond to the rise of patients suffering from COVID-19. The worst of these patients require invasive ventilation to save their lives, but at the peak the number of cases exceeds the number of ventilators available. Numerous projects have sought to solve the shortfall using low-cost designs released under permissive licences, including the Open Source Ventilator project, the AmboVent, the OxVent, and designs from MIT,Rice University, and from maker Johnny Lee.

A team of over 250 scientists and engineers led by Princeton University's Professor Cristian Galbiati have become the latest to launch a ventilator design — with the majority of them coming from a particle physics background, having been previously working on the detection of dark matter in the 15-year DarkSide-20k project.

"The public health care system in Lombardy is perhaps the strongest one in Europe, but it was near the point of buckling," explains Professor Galbiati, who found himself unable to leave Italy after a business trip. "We are doing so many complex projects with technical gases, [so we wanted] to find the best way — a way that is more scalable — to put oxygen into people’s lungs when they need it.

"In most traditional machines, designed for a more general use, [measuring and configuration] procedures require pressing five or six or seven buttons, or switching between different operating modes," Professor Galbiati continues. "As recommended by Dr. [Giuseppe] Foti and Dr. [Giacomo] Bellani of San Gerardo Hospital in Monza, we are working to implement advanced features such as single-button measurement of the plateau pressure, the pressure reached inside the alveoli at the end of the inspiratory cycle, and of the 'AutoPEEP,' normally referred to as the air-trapping in the exhalation phase, which may be zero for most healthy patients or significantly different from zero for patients that have obstructions in the exhalation channel, as possibly generated by secretions."

Dubbed the Mechanical Ventilator Milano, or MVM, the design has been published openly and relies only on readily-available parts with no esoteric materials. The materials required to build the first 1,000 units are expected to arrive some time next week.

More information on the project is available on the Princeton website and in an article on ZDNet; the design itself has been published on arXiv.org and medRxiv as a preprint, non-peer-reviewed paper under open access terms.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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