Since when was it society’s job to create new medical innovations in a time crunch? Well, it took a global pandemic caused by a ferocious respiratory illness to spur the world’s brightest minds on all fronts into action. Because of COVID-19 and the reliance on ventilators to keep patients breathing stable, hospitals around the globe have run into a problem.
The problem? Medical facilities are running out of ventilators for patients, as afflicted patients are already using their existing stock. The solution? Ask anyone and everyone to make new or alternative ventilators — and do it as fast as they possibly could.
The results have been shockingly positive. Of course, there wasn’t any foresight to predict such a significant and immediate need for vast quantities of ventilators, but we’re left wondering why these stockpiles of medical equipment didn’t already exist?
A Drexel University engineer was requested by the University of Pennsylvania’s health system to make 500 basic ventilators in two weeks — an almost insurmountable task. And yet, Marek Swoboda pulled through with his startup “RightAir.” Beyond Swoboda filling the vital order for backup ventilators, the price point of only using $10 in materials means it’s accessible and affordable — and the plans are open source. Anyone can access and replicate them.
According to NASA, one of their teams assigned to work on ventilator innovation developed a “high-pressure ventilator prototype specifically tailored to help coronavirus patients” in a mere 37 days. The creation is called VITAL — Ventilator Innovation Technology Accessible Locally — and has already passed critical tests at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and looks to be fast-tracked for use by coronavirus patients. The team who designed this came from engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena — they specialize in spacecraft technology, not medical equipment.
Dr. Rhys Thomas of Glangwili Hospital in Carmarthen, Wales, saw his own hospital’s supply of ICU ventilators running low, so he worked to invent a new machine that aids patients’ breathing while also clearing the room of lingering viral particles.
Rice University engineers are making a prototype for an inexpensive ventilator. As reported to The Wall Street Journal by the machine’s investors, it is made out of parts in “hobby shops” that can be “mass-produced for less than $200 apiece.” This ventilator, which has the name ApolloBVM, is designed to aid hospitals who are short on conventional ventilators and in dire need of alternatives.
Back in March, Dyson was tasked by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to develop a new ventilator. One was designed and developed in 10 days and the new product, CoVent, was sent to the UK’s National Health Service.
MIT assembled a hodge-podge team to create a prototype of their own, and they succeeded as early as March 12 — within a week, their idea moved all the way to prototype tests, and FDA approval is currently pending.
While all of these feats of human ingenuity are truly inspiring and awe-inducing, why were they necessary? Why did the medical industry not have inexpensive and easily mass-produced ventilators in the first place? Why did it take thousands of people dying to force efficiency and cost-effectiveness in the medical equipment field?
With a medical industry rife with greed, the innovation of these teams across the globe proves two things: that medical equipment can be made inexpensively and quickly in a time crunch, and that we should never underestimate the power of human ingenuity.