Johns Hopkins University scientists have developed a prototype 3D printed ventilator splitter to treat patients with acute COVID-19 symptoms.
The prototype should help address safety concerns about cross-contamination when sharing ventilators and correctly managing air flow to patients.
According to team lead and assistant professor Sung Hoon Kang, one of the leading causes of death for COVID-19 patients is a serious lung condition called Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).
In individuals with ARDS, fluid builds up in the lungs, limiting the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream and depriving vital organs of the oxygen they need to function properly. The only way to manage this is with the help of a ventilator.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has taken such a toll that many healthcare facilities are struggling to find ventilators and other machines needed to treat the sickest patients.
Sharing ventilators has become the norm of late, but this practice has been severely criticised by medical professionals and for good reason.
According to the doctors, hooking up several patients to the same ventilator could spread germs and create a chance for cross-contamination.
Another concern is that a ventilator shared by multiple people wouldn’t give all of them the necessary level of oxygen, which could lead to poor patient outcomes and high mortality rates.
The John Hopkins team is thus doing their best to design a splitter that safeguards against these risks.
According to the scientists, the new design includes an air-flow controller and flow meters, allowing clinicians to monitor and adjust air flow for each patient.
The air volume controller is a key addition because each intubated patient requires different flow control.
The team is also adding a filter designed to prevent cross-contamination between patients – important because early reports suggest that those exposed to multiple infected people experience worse outcomes.
They have also chosen to 3D print it and make the process as scalable as possible, as not all have access to high-resolution printers, notes Kang’s team mate, Christopher Shallal.
“The goal here is to quickly get this technology to hospitals around the world – and right to the people who need it the most,” says another team member, Helen Xun.
Once approved by the FDA, Kang and her team will publish their open-source design for others to use.
Image and content: Will Kirk/John Hopkins University