virus UI Carle ventilator

A prototype of the Illinois RapidVent, an emergency ventilator developed by researchers at the University of Illinois and Carle Foundation Hospital.

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URBANA — Researchers at Carle and the University of Illinois have developed a prototype emergency ventilator that could help fill a commercial ventilator shortage across the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new prototype, called the Illinois RapidVent emergency ventilator, was developed in less than a week, and tests have shown it performs equivalent to commercial devices, according to Carle and the UI.

“We have dropped everything else to work around the clock to help respond to the COVID-19 crisis,” said project leader William King, a UI professor of mechanical science and engineering. “We have a team of brilliant and dedicated people that made something that actually works in less than one week. It is very inspiring.”

COVID-19 can impact the lungs, and those who are the most sick may need help breathing, according to Dr. Karen White, a Carle Foundation Hospital intensivist and faculty member at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine.

“Ventilators are necessary to help patients get more oxygen,” she said. “That’s why we’re optimistic that by further developing the Illinois RapidVent, we can develop more options for our sickest patients.”

The Illinois RapidVent can be plugged into the oxygen source available in most hospital rooms, according to Carle and the UI. It can also plug into an oxygen tank.

Researchers said the prototype has run for more than 75 hours — more than 125,000 breathing cycles — and has, over time, delivered the amount of oxygen necessary and pressure patients would need when they are unable to breathe sufficiently on their own.

Additional tests are underway, and researchers are collaborating with medical professionals to refine the design and make it more usable, according to the UI and Carle. A video of it in action can be seen at its website, rapidvent.grainger.illinois.edu.

Dr. Charles Dennis, Carle’s chief medical officer, said the ventilator supply need at U.S. hospitals could range from there being enough to easily handle the need to becoming potentially overwhelmed.

Carle Foundation Hospital has enough ventilators to meet its current needs, but the COVID-19 surge on the way remains a question mark, he said.

“Should the surge occur in some capacity that we expect, there may be a need for additional ventilators in our overall region,” he said. “That was the need that we put on the table.

The prototype being developed could be deployed widely, and their cost is “very modest” compared to some of those made commercially, he said.

“It’s a completely functional cycle ventilator that will work off the medical gasses already in any hospital room,” he said.

The product will need to pass regulatory approvals and secure a manufacturer to make it available, Dennis said.

Partners in Illinois RapidVent project include faculty and researchers from across the UI at Urbana-Champaign, its Grainger College of Engineering, its Siebel Center for Design, its Applied Research Institute, Carle Health, TekMill and Creative Thermal Solutions Inc.

More than 40 people have been at work “day and night” on this project since it was launched March 16, according to Carle and the UI.

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