UVM team seeks federal approval for emergency ventilator to treat COVID-19 patients


University of Vermont researchers have created an inexpensive ventilator that could help critically ill COVID-19 patients with severe respiratory problems breathe more easily.

It’s called the Vermontilator, and it works by inflating the lungs using long inspirations of air followed by short exhalations that expel carbon dioxide from the lungs. The approach, called airway pressure release ventilation, or APRV, may allow patients to avoid, or reduce, the lung damage associated COVID-19 and extended periods on a ventilator.

Jason Bates, a professor at UVM’s Department of Medicine, said there are strong indications that the Vermontilator will be safe and effective in patients with COVID-19.

“You have to support them and hope that their own bodies’ defense mechanisms, their own immune systems, will be able to fight this and allow them to recover,” Bates said. “In the meantime, you have to breathe for them and get through it, but you don’t want to make things worse in the process.”

Bates has been researching the kind of lung damage inflicted on patients with respiratory conditions and illnesses similar to COVID-19 for fifteen years. He and a team of scientists, engineers and doctors have been working on the Vermontilator design for about 3 weeks.

“If we save one life with the things it will have all been worth while.”

Jason Bates, UVM Department of Medicine

Bates said the device will cost just a few hundred dollars to manufacture. A coalition of partners, including the Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center, UVM Health Network and the state of Vermont, is helping raise funding and find qualified manufacturers.

“We don’t have anything in here which is particularly fancy,” Bates said. “And we are making it as much as we can. In a way, it can be reproduced by any skilled machine shop.”

With the supply of ventilators a major concern as hospitals across the country fill up with COVID-19 cases, Bates said the Vermontilator could help fill the need for the devices. He said the team will submit the design to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval in the coming days, while UVM entrepreneurs develop a business model to support large-scale production..

“If we save one life with the things it will have all been worth while,” Bates said. “We just hope that if it needs to be of use, it will be of use.”

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