A low-cost breathing aid developed by UCL, UCLH and Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains, called the UCL-Ventura, is helping to cut deaths from COVID-19 in hospitals around the world.
The low cost breathing aid is being used to treat COVID19 patients
The Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device, which helps to keep patients off mechanical ventilators, is quick to produce and easy for staff to learn to use, has been a lifesaver in countries ranging from the UK to Peru to India.
Reverse engineered and manufactured in record time at the start of the pandemic, when both ventilators and CPAPs were in short supply, the UCL-Ventura model has now been supplied to around 130 hospitals in the UK and is in use in hospitals in at least 15 other countries.
Over 500 devices have been manufactured for use in hospitals across Pakistan, while locally manufactured devices are also helping patients in countries including India, South Africa, Ukraine and Mexico. UCL-Ventura devices have also been supplied directly to Palestine and Uganda.
Professor Rebecca Shipley (UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering) said: “This huge global uptake of the UCL-Ventura CPAPs shows the clinical need for a simple, low-cost device that healthcare workers can be quickly trained to use. We are proud to have built collaborative partnerships with manufacturing and clinical teams across the globe, and will continue to support these efforts in every way we can.”
CPAP devices were used extensively in the first Covid-19 wave in Italy and China to keep patients off invasive mechanical ventilators, and were able to prevent around 50% of patients from progressing to mechanical ventilation.
As they were in short supply in UK hospitals, engineers at UCL and Mercedes-AMG HPP – the company that makes the engines for the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team – worked with clinicians at UCLH to reverse engineer a device that could be mass manufactured quickly.
UCLH critical care consultant Professor Mervyn Singer (UCL Bloomsbury Institute of Intensive Care Medicine) said: “There has been a marked shift in clinical practice across the UK since the beginning of the pandemic, with far greater use of CPAP as hospitals recognised this was both an effective strategy and, crucially, spared stretched intensive care resources for the most critically ill.
“Use of mechanical ventilation has fallen by 26%, intensive care stay has halved for survivors, and mortality fallen by a quarter.”
To support healthcare systems around the world, the designs and manufacturing information for the UCL-Ventura were made freely available online with support from UCL Business, allowing manufacturing teams to develop and gain regulatory approval for the device in their own country. To date, over 1900 teams in 105 countries have downloaded the designs.
Some of the 500 devices manufactured in Pakistan have been donated to neighbouring countries – including 50 to Tajikistan – as part of a humanitarian effort.
Dr Hamid Mehmood (Dow University Hospital, Karachi) said: “This device came up as our first line management in moderate to severe cases of Covid-19 pneumonia. Being reusable, hand-held and driven by oxygen flow with easily manageable controls meant it was welcomed by our teams.
“It has been a great help to us in the management of patients in this pandemic and it has been a life saver for a good number of patients.”
UCL made designs to the low cost breathing aid freely available
The UK team are working extensively with international organisations and the UK government to provide support to teams manufacturing the device across the world. With support from the UK Department for International Trade, devices are now being manufactured in six Latin American countries including Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico.
Over 400 have been manufactured in Peru and distributed to hospitals. “What we have learned is that especially during ventilator shortages, CPAP is an excellent alternative as a ‘bridge therapy’ that saves time,” explained Professor Patricia J Garcia (Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia Hospital, Peru).
“At least half of our patients no longer required ventilation. For us, the UCL-Ventura CPAP was a lifesaver.”
Mercedes-Benz South Africa has donated 500 UCL-Ventura devices to 90 hospitals in the Eastern Cape province, with another 500 being donated to the National Department of Health to be distributed across the rest of South Africa. Other teams used the original UCL-Ventura designs as inspiration to produce their own adapted designs, with one South African company manufacturing 18,000 CPAPs in this way which were then distributed to hospitals in need.
UK-manufactured devices have been donated to two hospitals in Uganda and five in Palestine – where additionally over 700 doctors and nurses have been trained to use them – by charities including the International Medical Education Trust (IMET2000) and MAP (Medical Aid for Palestinians). Around 3,000 components of UCL-Ventura kit (CPAP devices, breathing circuits and oxygen analysers) have been delivered to countries around the world by the automotive logistics company G-TEM.
Dr Mohammed Rabei, general director of Dora government hospital in Hebron, Palestine, said: “Receiving the UCL-Ventura CPAP devices has been a great help. We have found them to be user-friendly and effective at restoring oxygen levels in our Covid-19 patients. We are exceedingly grateful for this donation through IMET2000 and other charities.”
Professor David Lomas (UCL Vice-Provost, Health) said: “Tackling an international pandemic like Covid-19 requires a truly global response. It was imperative to us from the start that as many people as possible should benefit from this life-saving device. Our decision to release the designs at no cost and to work collaboratively with teams across the world was in fitting with UCL’s ethos of partnership and commitment to help others.”
UCL President & Provost Dr Michael Spence said: “The development of the UCL-Ventura is a remarkable story of scientific breakthrough, innovation and collaboration between UK universities, hospitals and industry. The speed with which the breathing aid was produced and approved for use on the NHS was breath-taking and we are proud that it is now helping to save the lives of seriously-ill COVID-19 patients in over 130 hospitals in the UK and at least 15 countries around the world.
“This doesn’t happen by accident. It is because research that takes place in our world-leading universities is interwoven within the fabric of the NHS and industry. Processes that would usually be long and bureaucratic have been fast and effective in a time of national crisis. If we are to emerge stronger as a nation from the pandemic, it is crucial that we properly invest in, and support, funding in health research in universities and the NHS.”
Notes to Editors
For more information or to speak to the researchers involved, please contact
Kate Corry, UCL Media Relations. T: +44 (0)20 3108 6995, E: email@example.com
UCL is joining fundraising activities to help send more UCL-Venture CPAPs to those in need.
Photos courtesy of James Tye/UCL