NASA engineers have developed a high-pressure ventilator prototype tailored for COVID-19 patients that passed a critical test at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
Engineers developed the “ventilator intervention technology accessible locally” device, called “VITAL,” at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California in an effort to free up traditional ventilators for use on patients with the most severe coronavirus symptoms.
“We specialize in spacecraft, not medical-device manufacturing,” JPL director Michael Watkins said in a news release. “But excellent engineering, rigorous testing and rapid prototyping are some of our specialties. When people at JPL realized they might have what it takes to support the medical community and the broader community, they felt it was their duty to share their ingenuity, expertise and drive.”
NASA said in the release that it is pursuing FDA emergency use authorization (EUA), having delivered a prototype of the device to the human simulation lab in the anesthesiology dept. at Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Mount Sinai for additional testing.
Dr. Matthew Levin, director of innovation at the human simulation lab, said the NASA prototype performed “as expected” under a variety of simulated patient conditions, leading to the conclusion that VITAL could safely ventilate patients suffering from COVID-19.
NASA touts VITAL as able to be built faster and maintained more easily than a traditional ventilator. The device includes fewer parts than other ventilators, many of which are available through existing supply chains. Its design can also be modified for use in field hospitals set up in high-capacity facilities.
While NASA believes VITAL can be useful in the fight against coronavirus, much like other alternative ventilator options touted recently, it would not replace current hospital ventilators that can last years and are designed to address a wider range of issues. VITAL is intended to last for three or four months with specific tailoring for COVID-19 patients.
“Intensive care units are seeing COVID-19 patients who require highly dynamic ventilators,” NASA chief health & medical officer Dr. J.D. Polk said. “The intention with VITAL is to decrease the likelihood patients will get to that advanced stage of the disease and require more advanced ventilator assistance.”
NASA intends to offer a free license for VITAL as well and is currently reaching out to the commercial medical industry to find manufacturers for the device.