Emergency Ventilator Prototype Created in Less than a Week Undergoes Testing in Illinois as State's Coronavirus Cases Surge

An emergency ventilator prototype created by University of Illinois researchers in less than a week has reportedly shown promising results during an ongoing testing phase.

A team of more than 40 engineers, doctors, medical professionals, designers, and manufacturing experts have worked on the project since March 16, aiming to create a device to help patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory illness being caused by the novel coronavirus.

The prototype, dubbed the Illinois RapidVent, is designed to plug into the oxygen source available in most hospital rooms or to a standard tank of oxygen, researchers said.

In testing, it ran for more than 75 hours—over 125,000 cycles—and delivered the amount of oxygen that would be necessary to help patients with breathing difficulties.

Researchers said lab-based testing indicated the ventilator showed equivalent performance to commercial products, which are currently in short supply across the state.

The project is being run by the university's Grainger College of Engineering and Carle Health. Video of the machine has been published, but the team said it had not been tested on humans. The research has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and is instead published to "maximize the potential public benefit."

"Coronavirus can impact a patient's lungs, and those who are sickest may need help breathing," said Karen White, MD, PhD, an intensivist at Carle Foundation Hospital and a faculty member in the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, in a media release published by the university.

"Ventilators are necessary to help patients get more oxygen. That's why we're optimistic that by further developing the Illinois RapidVent we can develop more options for our sickest patients."

The Illinois Department of Public Health has confirmed at least 4,596 positive COVID-19 cases and 65 deaths as of March 29 at 5 p.m. A total of 27,762 tests have been conducted.

Officials said 1,105 new cases of the novel coronavirus and 18 deaths were recorded yesterday alone. The age of cases ranged from younger than one to 99 years, authorities noted.

"Older adults are at higher risk of severe illness, and more than 85 percent of deaths in Illinois are among individuals 60 years of age and older. However, people of all ages are suffering severe illness," health officials noted following the death of an infant believed to have contracted COVID-19.

The University of Illinois researchers said they are currently seeking approvals for use of the emergency ventilator, and will now look for partners to produce the RapidVent at scale. The team said experts have been respecting social distancing, conducting most meetings over video conferencing.

"We have dropped everything else to work around the clock to help respond to the COVID-19 crisis," said project leader William King, a professor of Mechanical Science and Engineering.

"We have a team of brilliant and dedicated people that made something that actually works in less than one week. It's very inspiring. We hope that we can engage even more people to work on the global response to COVID-19 as we continue to develop the prototype," King added.

Rashid Bashir, Dean of The Grainger College of Engineering and a Professor of Bioengineering, said: "We've all seen the 'flatten the curve' graphics that illustrate how staying at home helps reduce the threat of hospitals being overwhelmed. That behavior is absolutely crucial, but, in many projections, hospitals throughout the country may still have four or five times fewer ventilators than they need."

"We saw this massive, urgent need, and our partners from across the state jumped on it. This is precisely what America's research universities and their partners are uniquely equipped to do."

Illinois RapidVent emergency ventilator
The Illinois RapidVent emergency ventilator was developed in less than a week, and preliminary tests show performance equivalent to commercial devices, researchers said. University of Illinois/Grainger College of Engineering

On Twitter yesterday, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker criticized the response of the federal government for allegedly failing to provide test kits that could identify citizens with the disease.

He wrote: "The loss of... the entire month of February in the effort to scale up robust testing – and the exponential spread that followed – was a profound failing of the federal government.

"Nationally, there have been some improvements in testing–but we still have so far to go. The U.S. is still trailing other countries in testing on a per-capita basis, several times over," Gov. Pritzker added. "The White House has promised millions of tests for weeks now, and they're just not here."

There are now more than 143,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., which recently surpassed Italy as the country with the most infections. At the time of writing, there have been at least 2,513 deaths in the U.S. from the virus, Johns Hopkins University has recorded.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks.
  • Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.