NASA’s new easy-to-build ‘high-pressure ventilator’ tailored to treat COVID-19 patients was approved by the United States' Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Saturday, May 1. The device called VITAL (Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally) was developed by the engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California.
The ventilator is designed to treat patients with milder symptoms, thereby keeping the country’s limited supply of traditional ventilators available for patients with more severe COVID-19 symptoms.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, “This FDA authorisation is a key milestone in a process that exemplifies the best of what government can do in a time of crisis”.
He added, “This ventilator is one of countless examples of how taxpayer investments in space exploration – the skills, expertise and knowledge collected over decades of pushing boundaries and achieving firsts for humanity – translate into advancements that improve life on Earth”.
According to the press note on the NASA website, the Office of Technology Transfer and Corporate Partnerships at Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA, is now offering a free license for VITAL. Further, they are also reaching out to the commercial medical industry to find manufacturers for the device.
Fred Farina, chief innovation and corporate partnerships officer at Caltech, said that the authorities are working to ‘pass the baton’ to the medical community, and ultimately serve the patients.
The team at NASA detailed that VITAL can be built faster and maintained more easily than a traditional ventilator. It is also composed of far fewer parts, many of which are currently available to potential manufacturers through existing supply chains. Moreover, with flexible design, the device can also be modified for use in field hospitals being set up in convention centres, hotels and other high-capacity facilities across the globe.
The device, like all ventilators, will require patients to be sedated and an oxygen tube inserted into their airway to breathe. NASA also informed that VITAL would not replace current hospital ventilators as the device is intended to last only three to four months and is specifically tailored to the needs of COVID-19 patients. VITAL is expected to decrease the likelihood of patients getting to that advanced stage of the disease where they require advance ventilator assistance.