Low-cost ventilator from Imperial

Written by: Andrew Wade | Published:
Dr Joseph van Batenburg-Sherwood (Credit: Thomas Angus/Imperial)

Engineers at Imperial College London have developed a simple new ventilator design that could help provide essential medical treatment in low-income countries.

Initially conceived in response to the COVID pandemic, the low cost ‘RELAVENT’ ventilator is said to be cheaper and easier to manufacture than existing equipment. In a paper published in Frontiers in Medical Technology, the Imperial team demonstrate how the design achieves all of the performance requirements set out in ISO 80601, the international standard for critical care ventilators. They also showed that the system performs equally well with a home-use oxygen concentrator as with pressurised gas supplies like those found in hospitals.

“Our ventilators are inspired by the beauty of simplicity,” said lead researcher Dr Joseph van Batenburg-Sherwood, from Imperial College London’s Department of Bioengineering.

“Rather than using the complex control valves used in most ventilators, we conceived a way to use simple on-off valves to provide the high-level performance required of ICU ventilators. This way, we have made the technology much cheaper and less expensive to make and maintain.”

Ventilators are most commonly required by patients in intensive care units (ICU) who are seriously ill with respiratory diseases like COVID-19, flu, and tuberculosis. But due to their high cost, ventilators have historically been in short supply in low-and-middle income countries (LMICs) and newly emerging economies (NEEs). The Imperial team believes that – with appropriate funding – its ventilator design can pursue the path of full regulatory approval and ultimately begin to address the need for lower cost ventilation equipment around the globe.

“ICU ventilators made by big manufacturers have always been too expensive and complex for developing countries to buy and maintain, so many of the less affluent parts of the world simply have minimal access to ventilators,” Dr van Batenburg-Sherwood continued.

“In addition, most of the new ventilator designs created for COVID-19 were based on emergency short-term manufacturing and are not appropriate for long-term intensive care support, which is desperately needed in LMICs and NEEs.”


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