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Modern iron lung designed to address ventilator shortage

07/04/2020
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British engineers are developing a modern version of the Negative Pressure Ventilator (NPV), more popularly known as the "iron lung," with the hope of providing COVID-19 patients with an inexpensive alternative to ventilators.

British engineers are developing a modern version of the Negative Pressure Ventilator (NPV), more popularly known as the "iron lung," with the hope of providing COVID-19 patients with an inexpensive alternative to ventilators. Ventilators, which help to support breathing in people whose lungs have been heavily affected by the coronavirus, are one of the resources that is in critically short supply across the world. A modern version of “iron lung” machines could be the answer to this shortage of ventilators. Iron lungs were widely used in the 20th century to help treat patients during the polio epidemics, though they have since been superseded by more sophisticated machines. But COVID-19 might give them a new lease on life. A team of doctors, engineers and scientists has already developed and tested the machine, called an exovent, which will be delivered to three hospitals within days for real-world testing. The Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, the UK’s leading heart and lung hospital, is one of three NHS hospitals that have agreed to test six of the machine in coming days. Unlike ventilators, the exovent doesn't require intubation and is much simpler in design and operation. In addition, the machine improves heart efficiency by 25 % over conventional ventilators, which can adversely affect cardiac functions. According to the consortium responsible for its design, patients can remain awake, take medications, eat and drink, and talk to their loved ones on the phone. The developers also say that the exovent can be used in regular wards, which frees up ICU beds for more serious cases. Enclosing only the thorax, the machine does not use compressed air or oxygen, has only a few moving parts, and the components are readily available. The design is also adaptable for individual patients. The group say the equipment can be built quickly and cheaply with readily available materials and if given the go ahead by government and regulators, to 5,000 machines could be manufactured a week in the UK. The taskforce, which has been backed by Professor Sir John Burn, chairman of The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust and a former member of NHS England’s board, has developed the idea within a matter of weeks working night and day. It has also been supported by the family of physicist Stephen Hawking.  Sir John Burn said: “The exovent team has cleverly adapted the old concept of the iron lung, which was used for treating polio. This device is cheap, simple and it will work. I am convinced it provides a real alternative and is worthy of support.” In a statement, the family of Stephen Hawking said: “As the family of a ventilated man, we know the life and death difference that access to this kind of medical technology makes. “The Covid-19 epidemic has caused worldwide demand for ventilators to vastly outstrip supply. We are so proud to support the technological and manufacturing innovation involved in producing low cost, effective ventilators swiftly and in large numbers and hope the combined efforts of everyone who has answered this call will mean the NHS receives the equipment it needs to save lives at this terrible time.”

(Image source: John Hunter/Steer Energy)

Ventilators, which help to support breathing in people whose lungs have been heavily affected by the coronavirus, are one of the resources that are in critically short supply across the world. A modern version of “iron lung” machines could be the answer to this shortage of ventilators.

Iron lungs were widely used in the 20th century to help treat patients during the polio epidemics, though they have since been superseded by more sophisticated machines. But COVID-19 might give them a new lease on life.

Iron lungs were widely used in the 20th century to help treat patients during the polio epidemics
(Image source: PA Images)

 
A team of doctors, engineers and scientists have already developed and tested the machine, called an exovent, which will be delivered to three hospitals within days for real-world testing.

The Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, the UK’s leading heart and lung hospital, is one of three NHS hospitals that have agreed to the real-world testing of six of the machine in coming days.

Unlike ventilators, the exovent doesn't require intubation and is much simpler in design and operation. In addition, the machine improves heart efficiency by 25 % over conventional ventilators, which can adversely affect cardiac functions. According to the consortium responsible for its design, patients can remain awake, take medications, eat and drink, and talk to their loved ones on the phone.

The developers also say that the exovent can be used in regular wards, which frees up ICU beds for more serious cases. Enclosing only the thorax, the machine does not use compressed air or oxygen, has only a few moving parts, and the components are readily available. The design is also adaptable for individual patients.

British engineers are developing a modern version of the Negative Pressure Ventilator (NPV), more popularly known as the "iron lung,"
(Image source: John Hunter/Steer Energy)

The group say the equipment can be built quickly and cheaply with readily available materials and if given the go ahead by government and regulators, to 5,000 machines could be manufactured a week in the UK.

The task-force, which has been backed by Professor Sir John Burn, chairman of The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust and a former member of NHS England’s board, has developed the idea within a matter of weeks working night and day. It has also been supported by the family of physicist Stephen Hawking.

Sir John Burn said: “The exovent team has cleverly adapted the old concept of the iron lung, which was used for treating polio. This device is cheap, simple and it will work. I am convinced it provides a real alternative and is worthy of support.”

In a statement, the family of Stephen Hawking said: “As the family of a ventilated man, we know the life and death difference that access to this kind of medical technology makes.“The Covid-19 epidemic has caused worldwide demand for ventilators to vastly outstrip supply. We are so proud to support the technological and manufacturing innovation involved in producing low cost, effective ventilators swiftly and in large numbers and hope the combined efforts of everyone who has answered this call will mean the NHS receives the equipment it needs to save lives at this terrible time.”

Tags: Engineering
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Modern iron lung designed to address ventilator shortage - Time to read 3 min
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