A team of dozens of NASA engineers at Southern California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have designed, built and shipped out a prototype of a new type of ventilator specially designed for COVID-19 patients in 37 days, officials said Thursday.
The prototype high-pressure ventilator does not entirely replace existing ventilators, which have a wider range of applications, but will be useful for many COVID-19 patients and would be able to free up traditional ventilators for those with the most severe symptoms, JPL officials explained in a written statement.
“We specialize in spacecraft, not medical-device manufacturing,” JPL Director Michael Watkins said. “But excellent engineering, rigorous testing and rapid prototyping are some of our specialties. When people at JPL realized they might have what it takes to support the medical community and the broader community, they felt it was their duty to share their ingenuity, expertise and drive.”
The device, called the Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally, or VITAL, has been shipped to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, a COVID-19 hot spot, where it “passed a critical test” on Tuesday, according to JPL.
“The NASA prototype performed as expected under a wide variety of simulated patient conditions,” said Director of Innovation for the Human Simulation Lab and professor of Anesthesiology, Preoperative and Pain Medicine, and Genetics and Genomics Sciences at the school. “The team feels confident that the VITAL ventilator will be able to safely ventilate patients suffering from COVID-19 both here in the United States and throughout the world.”
While VITAL is only designed to last months, rather than the years traditional ventilators last, “VITAL can be built faster and maintained more easily than a traditional ventilator, and is composed of far fewer parts, many of which are currently available to potential manufacturers through existing supply chains,” according to the JPL statement. “Its flexible design means it also can be modified for use in field hospitals being set up in convention centers, hotels, and other high-capacity facilities across the country and around the globe.”
NASA was in the process of seeking expedited FDA approval for the new device, as well as looking for commercial partners to manufacture the machine under a free license, the agency said.
More information on NASA’s efforts to combat COVID-19 is available online.