Ventilators are one of the most essential medical devices needed for treating patients hospitalized with coronavirus (COVID-19). However, many countries are already confronting the challenge of a shortage of ventilators.
“Many of the most severe COVID-19 infections witnessed in patients have led to severe lung inflammation, where the patient’s status may deteriorate to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a situation that requires assisted ventilation and oxygenation in the intensive care unit (ICU),” explained Josué Sznitman, associate professor at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.
The lack of effective therapies to treat ARDS leads to an extremely high mortality rate, which is why many of the most serious coronavirus-related deaths are due to ARDS. As the number of COVID-19 patients rises and ICUs worldwide run out of beds and ventilators, the mortality rates are expected to increase.
Sheba Medical Center’s ventilator solution
A promising advancement for mass-producing inexpensive ventilators is under development at Sheba Medical Center. BiPAP and CPAP machines, which are commonly used to provide breathing support for patients with sleep apnea, are being transformed into functioning ventilators for the hospital’s ICU. Sheba is currently collaborating with a variety of partners on this endeavor, and testing of the ventilator was completed successfully on animals in the past week.
“[Our medical center’s efforts] will have huge implications for not only Sheba and Israel but also for the world,” said Yoel Har-Even, Director of Sheba’s International Division & Resource Development.
The BiPAP and CPAP devices are more common, less complex, and substantially cheaper than conventional ventilators. Because this solution involves modifying existing technology that is easy to procure, Sheba’s respirator solution could be a game-changer, especially for communities that lack funding to buy traditional ventilators.
“There are hundreds of thousands of BiPAP and CPAP machines across the globe, so if this works, the shortage of ventilators could be overcome much more easily,” said Har-Even.
Multi-partner project for ventilator prototype
Another technological response to the potential global shortage of respirators and ventilators is being managed by the Israel Air Force. The multi-partner project involves the rapid production of a prototype for vital in-demand medical equipment. The new prototype is expected to cost thousands of dollars less than conventional solutions for ventilators. Although the prototype is much more basic than standard ventilator machines, it can be effective for use treating the least complicated intubated patients, when no other options are available. Israel is preparing for a situation like in Italy or Spain, where the number of available mechanical ventilation machines has fallen short of the number of patients in critical condition.
Presently, more than 30 countries have reached out to Israel expressing their interest in the prototype, which can be made within two days to a week. It has already been shared online as an open-source design; however, it has not yet been granted FDA approval for clinical use.
Bringing vital medical supplies to Israel
Many other initiatives are ongoing to bring medical equipment to Israel to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Yad Sarah, an Israeli nonprofit and volunteer organization, recently brought in thousands of oxygen generators, respirators, oxygen balloons, and protective kits with disposable gowns, gloves, and masks from China.
The Ministry of Defense also announced it will facilitate the import into Israel of 20 tons of medical equipment, including ventilators, surgical masks, and protective suits.
Reconfiguring machinery to treat respiratory arrest
Various projects in Israel are also working on the local manufacture of medical supplies. A number of interdisciplinary collaborations are actively engaged in the battle against COVID-19, such as a team at the Technion that is developing a potentially life-saving technology to treat severe respiratory arrest with targeted drug delivery. Their technology uses an electronic ventilation machine along with a smart inhaler to deliver short-pulsed boluses of specifically dosed therapeutic aerosols.
Another project underway at the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Rehabilitation and Maintenance Center at Tel Hashomer involves the conversion of armored vehicle assembly lines to produce 1,400 pairs of protective goggles every day. Within 12 hours, this IDF center transformed its entire work program. Several other IDF centers are also being repurposed in the continued fight against coronavirus, including to manufacture hazmat suits.
“Similar to the rest of Israel, we understood we are at war right now against an invisible enemy, and therefore we decided to pitch in to help fight the coronavirus pandemic,” said Col. Udi Amira, in Israel Hayom.