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NASA develops high-pressure ventilator to fight COVID-19

by Rahul Chauhan
1 minutes read

NASA engineers have developed a new, easy-to-build high-pressure blower specially tailored for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. The device, called VITAL (Fan Intervention Technology Accessible Locally), has passed a critical test this week at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York, an epicenter of COVID-19 in the U.S., NASA said.

VITAL is designed to treat patients with milder symptoms, making the country’s limited range of traditional fans available to patients with more severe COVID-19 symptoms, it said. “We specialize 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 that they might be able to support the medical community and the wider community, they felt it was their duty to demonstrate their ingenuity, expertise and driving, “said Watkins. NASA is now seeking FDA approval equipment through an emergency use authorization, an accelerated approval process developed for crises that lasts days rather than years, the US space agency said.

“We were very happy with the results of the tests we conducted 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 is confident that the VITAL ventilator can safely ventilate patients suffering from COVID-19 both here in the US and around the world, “said Levin. VITAL can be built faster and is easier to maintain than a traditional ventilator, and is made up of far fewer parts, many of which are currently available to potential manufacturers through existing supply chains, NASA said.

Thanks to its flexible design, it can also be adapted for use in field hospitals set up in convention centers, hotels and other high-capacity facilities across the country and around the world, the agency said. Like all fans, VITAL requires patients to be anesthetized and an oxygen tube inserted into their airways to breathe.

The new device could not replace the current hospital fans, which will last for years and are built to address a wider range of medical problems. Instead, VITAL is intended to last three to four months and is specifically tailored for COVID-19 patients, according to NASA.

“Intensive care units see COVID-19 patients who need highly dynamic fans,” said J D Polk, NASA’s chief health and medical service. “The goal of VITAL is to reduce the likelihood that patients will reach that advanced stage of the disease and need more advanced respiratory care,” said Polk.

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