Research Highlight

A low-cost ventilator for COVID-19 patients

doi:10.1038/nindia.2020.84 Published online 13 May 2020

Prototype of the ventilator developed by IISER Pune scientists.

© Umakant Rapol

Researchers from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) in Pune have designed a prototype for a low-cost, mass-producible mechanical ventilator that could cater to the needs of COVID-19 patients.

They say the ventilator is compatible with wireless technology that facilitates remote monitoring as well as control of the machine.

A number of ventilators can be connected to a central console, allowing healthcare workers to monitor several patients simultaneously – a feature that will be useful during a pandemic, they add.  

COVID-19 patients, particularly elderly ones, need ventilators to ease their breathing problem. A ventilator pumps oxygen into the lungs and then removes carbon dioxide. When the lockdown started in the last week of March, India had serious shortage of ventilators, with experts warning of a disaster if COVID-19 spreads rapidly.

In a response to the a crisis, the IISER Pune team, led by Sunil Nair and Umakant Rapol, set out to build the mechanical ventilator,  briskly putting it together within a month. The ventilator, made using equipment available locally, has an electronic system that controls the flow of air volume and with the ability to sense the flow, and to deliver, the desired volume of air into the patient. It also has pressure sensors, a microcontroller for autonomous operation and a microcomputer to interface with the user and with remote monitoring and control.  

The ventilator can work in an invasive mode when a breathing tube is put into a patient’s windpipe through the nose or mouth. It could also function in a non-invasive mode when a patient receives oxygen-rich air through a gas mask.

They demonstrated the efficacy of the ventilator on a test lung. It is possible to monitor the function of the ventilator and the patient’s parameters on a mobile phone.

“The tentative price for a basic unit would be less than Rs. 50,000 which is about 10 times cheaper than the commercial ventilators,” says Nair.