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Staff at Cambridge Design Partnership (CDP) have worked on an innovative project to “split” a medical ventilator, so that it can save the life of two patients at the same time. It could be used by healthcare providers around the world to double ventilator support in emergencies involving mass casualties. The innovative device is now set for regulatory approval thanks to the CDP team.


The device was initially created in a tight timeframe in March 2020, said Jon Cooke, who led CDP’s team working on the project. “At the time, there were fears that Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge could not cope with the high numbers of seriously ill Covid-19 patients they might face, so we worked round the clock to turn the idea into reality.”

The device allows one ventilator to serve two patients safely, even if they have differing needs for breathing support. It is now being tested and looks set to become a key piece of emergency equipment in pandemics and other crises such as war and mass shootings.

The project was initiated by the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), University of Cambridge, in response to a call for help from Royal Papworth Hospital anaesthetists. Previous ventilator-splitting designs did not take into account the differing needs of the two patients in terms of lung capacity and breathing needs. “They were so rudimentary they ran the risk of doing serious damage to the patients’ lungs,” said Jon.

All parts in the device are easily sourced and can be swiftly changed and replaced. Initial details of how to build the device are now freely available on the Institute for Manufacturing website, for use by all medical professionals in emergencies. “If other communities across the world have to consider this emergency option in the event of a shortage of ventilators, they can copy and adapt the set-up for their own needs,” said Jon.

“The CDP team was asked to join the project at short notice over Easter 2020. “Although ventilator demand in the UK has now reduced, this system could provide emergency support in other countries which are still facing significant challenges with the pandemic. It’s also of great help for longer-term use in countries with ongoing ventilator shortages,” said Jon Cooke.
Two anaesthetists from the Royal Papworth Hospital, Professor Andrew Klein and Dr Chinmay Patvardhan, initiated the project. Professor Klein said: “We needed to have the ability to measure and control the air flow to each patient individually. We also needed to ensure that if there was a decline or improvement in breathing in one patient this would have no effect on air delivery to, or monitoring of, the other.”

“It was also essential that the set-up was easy to assemble and use. The device is currently being tested at Royal Papworth Hospital and first trials of the device using artificial lungs are very encouraging.”

Dr Patvardhan said: “This device could allow medical professionals to instantly double their ability to ventilate patients safely in a crisis situation. This would be invaluable for any future emergency on the scale we have seen with COVID-19.”

The system is specifically designed to be simple to use and maintain. The unit provides isolated respiratory lines to two patients and can be swiftly added to a ventilator. A meter shows a measurement of tidal volume to each patient. The device can also monitor the total pressure and airflow in the device. Easy-to-access valves enable fine tuning of air flow to match the requirements of each patient.

Jon Cooke said: “It was a hugely positive experience for us here at CDP to support the IfM team and work with Royal Papworth to deliver a functioning and safe design in such a short space of time.

“The combination of the deep regulatory knowledge and robust design techniques of the CDP team along with the great conceptual and experimental work conducted by the IfM made for a truly rapid development process. I’m extremely proud of what we achieved together in this remarkable cooperative project.

“Of course, we hope that such emergency use of ventilators will be a rare occurrence in the future. But if such a situation arises, this system can be a lifesaver.”

 



Watch a report on the new device from BBC Science and Technology Correspondent Richard Westcott:

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