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UC Berkeley Engineers Turn CPAP Machines into Ventilators

Not for acute care, but there are plenty of people who can use these devices to breathe
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“Tens of thousands of COVID-19 patients in this country and around the world will need respiratory support in the coming weeks and months,” said Grace O’Connell, the Don M. Cunningham Endowed Professor at UC Berkeley’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

And so she is working with a team of UC Berkeley engineers, ER doctors and critical care pulmonologists to develop equipment that will help those patients breathe.

Berkeley ventilator

Transforming a CPAP machine into a ventilator for COVID-19 patients. (Image: Venilator SOS)

“We believe that using sleep apnea machines is a viable solution for non-ICU patients. This way higher-grade ventilators can be reserved for patients with more advanced stages of respiratory disease.”

That’s right. They’ve developed an approach to modify the CPAP (which stands for continuous positive airway pressure) machines that so many people have on their nightstands to equipment that can be used to assist COVID-19 patients.

They’re also modifying auto-CPAP and bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP or BPAP) machines.

One of the modifications to the CPAP machine is to set it up so that it accepts oxygen where ambient air enters the device. The oxygenated air is filtered. Then it is delivered to the patient via an FDA-approved endotracheal tube. Exhaled air is also filtered before being released into the environment.

O’Connell: “Our solution could be used for those patients who need support for mild to moderate respiratory symptoms, saving the ventilators for ICU patients who are experiencing acute respiratory distress.”

She also notes that these machines are comparatively economical and don’t have long manufacturing lead times. (According to the American Sleep Apnea Association there are from 8 to 10-million CPAP users in the U.S., so obviously there is an existing market. And who hasn’t heard the William Shatner commercial where he acknowledges he uses the equipment, too?)

O’Connell and her team of UC Berkeley students designed the ventilator with the help of Berkeley Engineering alumni Bryan Martel and Ajay Dharia, MD, and Bert Lubin, MD.

What’s more, the UC Berkeley engineers are using 3D printers at the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation and the CITRIS Invention Lab to come up with mods and parts for the ventilator.

Why This Matters

Admittedly this has nothing directly to do with the auto industry.

But many of you reading this are engineers, so perhaps this will give you some ideas as to how you can hack a CPAP machine. The FDA has developed guidelines for what’s necessary, that you can find right here.

Or maybe you’re not an engineer and you do have an unused CPAP machine. If so, you can go to VentilatorSOS.com to find out about donating that device so it can be transformed into a ventilator.