Local university develops low-cost ventilator for COVID-19 patients

The COVID-19 outbreak has created a dire need for ventilators in the U.S. and around the world.

As we hear stories about how some doctors in other countries are having to decide who lives and who dies because of a ventilator shortage, Rice University and Lone Star College are doing what they can to keep that from happening here.

The automated bag valve mask ventilation unit was created by a team of six at Rice University in the college’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, eliminating the need to squeeze by hand.

“It stimulates the device by compressing it for hours at a time. This reduces the need for a medical professional to have to be there and compressing the bag themselves,” explains Matthew Wettergreen Associate Engineering Professor.

"There are plans to make some pressure sensors and some other fail-safes as well,” adds Danny Blacker Rice University Engineering Design Supervisor.

"I’m responsible for building the control system and the entire electronics,” says Rice University Senior Thomas Herring who is the only student on the team.

He helped calibrate the ventilator for things such as airway frequency and pressure.

“In terms of how much air we actually supply a patient. We don’t want to burst their lungs by giving them too much," he said.

The group consulted with several others around the world, creating a device that breathes for non-critical COVID-19 patients, leaving larger ventilators for those who are critical.

“Our plans are, sometime next week to release this device with plans and manufacturing and assembly instructions so it can be used around the world,” explains Wettergreen.

Meanwhile the Lone Star College-Kingwood campus Respiratory Care Program has loaned eight ventilators to area hospitals.

“Because right now our classes are not taking place on campus so we had extra ventilators that were able to be loaned out,” says Kyle Scott Lone Star College Vice Chancellor of Strategic Priorities.

LSC also donated 75 Personal Protective Equipment kits.

"We’re talking gloves. We’re talking the scrubs that go on. We’re talking masks. Those sorts of items that enable our frontline workers to stay safe," he said.

Rice University’s ventilator unit will cost less than $300 instead of the thousands of dollars ventilators normally cost. The university is also working with manufacturers to mass-produce the device.