Researchers at IISER develop low-cost ventilator

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Published on May 14, 2020 11:50 PM IST
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By, Mumbai

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, have developed a low-cost mechanical ventilator —a hybrid version of a ventilator developed in US and Italy — to bridge the demand-supply gap owing to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Developing cheap ventilators is important as per a recent paper by the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy that has estimated that India has approximately 1.9 million hospitals beds, 95,000 ICU beds and 48,000 ventilators. Most beds and ventilators are concentrated in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Telangana and Kerala.

“Critical Covid patients need a ventilator that is slightly more advanced in terms of features and usability,” said Umakant D Rapol, associate professor, physics department, IISER. “We have kept the ventilator simple yet efficient by incorporating design requirements and almost all functionalities that a doctor requires to treat patients,” he added

Stating that the prototype costs between Rs 30,000-40,000, Sunil Nair, associate professor, physics department, IISER, said the ventilator has been tested for about half a million cycles in the laboratory.

The advanced full-fledged version of the ventilator — it is a microprocessor-based system — will be ready in two weeks following which the team will collaborate with clinicians for evaluation and mass production.

The idea to develop the ventilator was an offshoot of another project initiated by the institute’s international office.

“When we were asked to help in designing and development of a mechanical ventilator, known as the Bharucha ventilator in which we are still involved, we realised that it was a very basic machine that would not suffice for the use of Covid-19 patients,” said Nair. “We also got to know about a couple of open-source ventilators that were released — Mechanical Ventilator Milano and another one by the University of Florida. This got us thinking about how we could implement the ventilators in the Indian context.”

Having zeroed in on the two designs, the team comprising professors, a technical officer along with two former students pursuing their studies in Canada and Denmark started building the prototype on April 2.

“We ended up designing a hybrid version, which meets most of the specifications of the US and Italian models, with our materials. It was difficult to obtain many components due to the lockdown,” said Rapol. “The ventilator can be locally manufactured without relying on imported components,” he added.

Essentially, the prototype comprises three primary modes of operation such as continuous positive airway pressure with different parameters (breaths per minute, for instance) delivered to the patient that can be chosen by the operator from the front screen.

Working on compressed air from the hospital or a dedicated compressor that provides clean air, the ventilator is also equipped with an additional self-assisted mode — the machine supports breathing which is initiated by the patient based on appropriate upper or lower air pressure triggers that are set by the operator. Researchers said one can remotely control and monitor the parameters of both the ventilator and the patient. One can also use a single computer to interact with many similar ventilators in a hospital, and monitor various parameters on a mobile phone.

Tarun Souradeep, professor and chair physics at the institute, said, “Building this low-cost ventilator is a good initiative since they have used their capabilities of building instruments, which is rare in science departments because experimentalists are largely used to running expensive instruments that are purchased for laboratories.”


    Snehal Fernandes is senior assistant editor at Hindustan Times, Mumbai. She writes on science and technology, environment, sustainable development, climate change, and nuclear energy. In 2012, she was awarded ‘The Press Club Award for Excellence in Journalism’ (Political category) for reports on Goa mining scam. Prior to HT, she wrote on education and transport at the Indian Express.

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