FDA approves new ventilators developed by NASA engineers at JPL to treat COVID-19 patients

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The Food and Drug Administration has authorized a new type of ventilator specially designed for COVID-19 patients that was developed by NASA engineers at Southern California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, JPL officials announced Thursday.

Its approval came under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization issued on March 24 to shore up supplies of medical devices amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a JPL news release.

“This FDA authorization is a key milestone in a process that exemplifies the best of what government can do in a time of crisis,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in the release.

The prototype for the new high-pressure device ventilator — known as VITAL, for Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally — was designed, built and shipped in 37 days.

VITAL won’t replace traditional ventilators, which have a broader range of medical uses, but it will free up the nation’s limited supply to be used on patients most severely impacted by COVID-19.

Prior to FDA approval, the prototype had been sent to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, where it passed a critical test on April 21, officials said.

Now that the design has been authorized by the FDA, the Caltech office that manages JPL is now looking to find manufacturers for VITAL and will even offer a free license for the device during the pandemic, the release stated.

“We’re working to pass the baton to the medical community, and ultimately patients, as quickly as possible,” Fred Farina, Caltech’s chief innovation and corporate partnerships officer, said in the release.

Although the new device is intended to last a much shorter period of time than regular ventilators — three to four months, compared to years — VITAL possess a number of benefits that make them useful during the coronavirus crisis, according to JPL officials.

Not only is it composed of fewer parts than traditional ventilators, VITAL also can be built faster and is easier to maintain. In addition, the flexible design can be modified in a wide variety of settings — from field hospitals to high-capacity facilities.

“It’s been exhilarating coming up with VITAL’s design,” Michelle Easter, an engineer at JPL who helped develop the device, said in the release. “Now that we have FDA approval, we’re looking forward to seeing companies license this technology and share it with the rest of the world.”

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