Students At MIT Develop A $100 Alternative To $30,000 Ventilator Units—And All They Ask Is To Stay Anonymous

100 dollar ventilator

MIT students have developed a low-cost emergency ventilator that costs just $100 to produce, in comparison to the $30,000 spent on ventilator units typically used in hospitals.

Courtesy of the researchers, via SciTechDaily

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently put out a call for an additional 30,000 ventilator units because the need is so dire in the country’s hardest-hit region. A study published by the Imperial College in London states that an estimated 30% of people hospitalized for the virus will require a ventilator.

With doctors effectively making decisions about who lives and who dies in hospitals overrun with infected patients, the shortage of ventilator units is an obstacle imperative to overcome in the treatment of COVID-19.

The students’ design uses a common and abundant hospital item called a bag-valve resuscitator, or Ambu bag. The bags are used by first responders to keep people breathing until they can get access to a ventilator. Each self-inflating, hand-operated resuscitator costs around $20.

The team at MIT figured out a way to operate the bag automatically, using a mechanism that squeezes and releases the bag so that a human doesn’t have to. A two-week period of convalescence could require more than one million cycles of the resuscitator.

Any mechanical failure could result in death, so the team is working to ensure the ventilator is extremely reliable. The ventilator also needs to be made adjustable, in order to pump the correct amount of air in relation to patients’ varying lung capacities.

“The primary consideration is patient safety,” one team member told SciTechDaily. “So we had to establish what we’re calling minimum clinical functional requirements.”

The engineers wish to remain anonymous in order to avoid attention that will distract from their work.

The ventilator project takes place in a class called Precision Machine Design in which students use design solutions to address challenges facing the healthcare industry. The $100 ventilator is informed by another student project completed a decade back by MIT students for a Medical Device Design class. The new team used their research, design, and testing to develop their working prototype.

The engineers are currently seeking FDA approval for the device so that it can be implemented on a large scale, but the process takes time. In response to the urgent need for care, the team aims to publish plans for the ventilator online. The hope is that other trained and highly qualified engineers can improve upon and build their own prototypes of the device.

“We all work together, and ultimately the goal is to help people, because people’s lives understandably hang in the balance,” one team member said.

Susan LaMarca

Written by Susan LaMarca