The NASA engineers took a break from building spacecraft and instead developed a new ventilator designed for COVID-19 patients.
It only took 37 days for engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California to develop a new high-pressure ventilator using fewer parts than a traditional one.
The ventilator is named VITAL, which stands for Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally. It has already passed rigid testing on Tuesday at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) in New York.
The limited supply of ventilators prompted these space engineers to create a ventilator prototype, which they say can be built easier and faster. They are now waiting for the FDA to approve the machine to start its production and use. NASA hopes the FDA would use an emergency-use authorization to approve for the faster process during this crisis. Normally, it may take years to get approval, but it is possible to get it in days in a crisis situation.
The ventilator may be used on critically-ill COVID-19 patients and halt the rising coronavirus-related deaths. "We have the potential to save human lives, people that we might know, our neighbors, our families," said Michelle Easter, a mechatronics engineer on the project, adding the experience that intensity is amazing.
According to Johns Hopkins University, there are now a total of 197,924 deaths among the 2,828,772 confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide. In the United States alone, 52,415 had died from the 906,551 COVID-19 cases.
A duty to the society
JPL Director Michael Watkins said in a statement on Thursday that while they specialize in building spacecraft, they also are specializing in "excellent engineering, rigorous testing, and rapid prototyping." "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," Watkins added.
A prototype of the device has also been delivered for additional testing at the Human Simulation Lab in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative, and Pain Medicine, which is a gold-standard medical facility.
Director of Innovation for the Human Simulation Lab Dr. Matthew Levin said they were delighted with the test results performed in ISMMS' high-fidelity human simulation lab. Levin is also an associate professor of Anesthesiology, Preoperative, and Pain Medicine, and Genetics and Genomics Sciences at the ISMMS.
Levin also said the prototype performed as expected to perform under various simulated patient conditions. "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," added Levin.
VITAL can be built faster and has easier maintenance, compared to a traditional ventilator. It is made of fewer parts, many of which can be obtained via existing supply chains. Its design can also be modified for use in field hospitals like those set up in convention centers, hotels, and other facilities.
The Office of Technology Transfer and Corporate Partnerships (OTTCP) currently reaches out to the commercial medical industry to find manufacturers for the VITAL while offering a free license for the device. The OTTCP manages JPL for NASA.