UK experts have designed a new type of ventilator that may allow more patients with severe Covid-19 to be treated outside of intensive care.
The researchers said that their device, known as exovent, is more comfortable for the patient, cheaper than those currently being used in intensive care units (ICU), and requires fewer staffing resources to manage it.
Exovent is a negative pressure ventilator – which means it works by lowering the pressure outside the body to allow lung tissue to expand and function in a way that resembles normal breathing.
It works differently from the conventional positive pressure ventilators which, instead, push air into the lungs.
As positive pressure devices became much smaller, cheaper and more convenient over the years, research into negative pressure devices was mostly abandoned since the 1950s.
However, the scientists behind exovent said that negative pressure devices are far less intrusive than either positive pressure ventilation, where a tube is inserted into the windpipe, or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), where oxygen is delivered through a tightly-fitting face mask.
Patients do not need to be sedated and can take food and medication by mouth, as well as talk to loved ones on the phone when using exovent, they added.
Ian Joesbury, the chief executive of exovent, said: “We are really excited to be unveiling this life-saving system which is a cutting-edge reinvention of pre-existing technology.
“As the patient does not need to be sedated it opens up alternative treatment options that may allow more patients with Covid-19 to be treated outside of intensive care.”
A team of anaesthetists, nurses and engineers were involved in the design of the exovent chamber, which consists of a base fitted on to a standard hospital bed.
A pump unit is connected to the base by hoses and pressure around the torso can be adjusted using a control unit.
The patient’s torso can be monitored through a window and accessed through portholes.
The device was tested on six healthy adults in the presence of three senior anaesthetists.
According to the researchers, exovent “was able to deliver both an increased lung expansion to people breathing spontaneously, and powerful ventilation to take over people’s breathing entirely, using only moderate negative pressures”.
However, they said that a clinical trial is required to fully test the device.
They believe exovent can also help people with other respiratory diseases such as pneumonia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
According to the team, an exovent device costs approximately £8,000 (€8,900), making it cheaper than existing positive-pressure devices, which cost around £15,000 (€16,850) for CPAP machines and more than £30,000 (€33,000) for intensive care ventilators.
The researchers said they are planning to submit their exovent design to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which regulates medical devices in the UK.
In the meantime, the details of the device have been published in the journal Anaesthesia.