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University of Michigan researchers find innovative solution to ventilator shortage

Lack of sufficient ventilators remains concern amid coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

DETROIT – From the beginning of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the lack of sufficient ventilators has been a key concern. While Michigan has flattened the curve enough for the supply to meet demand, there’s still a shortage in other places and concerns about a second wave of the illness.

Many groups have proposed splitting ventilators between patients by using a simple Y-shaped device, but that’s only really an option if the patients have lungs of a similar size and need the same settings.

Researchers at the University of Michigan set out to design a better option.

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“We wanted to find some way that we could go and treat these patients,” said Dr. Glenn Green, a researcher at U of M.

Green and other researchers at the university devised a customized vent-splitter.

“We developed a way to provide individualized settings in a way that each patient can have their own specific settings and treatment, according to what their own lung requirements are,” Green said.

The device delivers oxygen similar to a scuba tank used by divers. There are also filters and one-way valves to prevent cross contamination between patients.

It’s inexpensive to make and easily transportable, experts said.

“There was a large request from the government of Mexico to obtain ventilators, and so we’re looking to see if this would be of use to them,” Green said.

The team plans to make the device publicly available to any center that needs it. Green said this was truly a community effort.

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" friend of mine had a yoga studio, and it was totally shut down and she was not able to do anything with her yoga studio," Green said. “She opened up and let us use that area for our work.”

A ventilator costs tens of thousands of dollars. Researchers said they’re able to make these vent-splitters for just $500, and that cost could decrease dramatically if they make them on a larger scale.

This could be a lifesaving breakthrough in parts of the world where ventilators are still in short supply or if the United States needs more down the road.


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