The U.S. space agency NASA has announced a new high-pressure ventilator developed by its engineers and designed specifically to COVID-19 patients has been approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The device, called VITAL — meaning "Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally" — was designed and built in 37 days by engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the city of Pasadena, California.
Its designers say it is intended to be used exclusively on COVID-19 patients, freeing up traditional ventilators, which are built for a broad range of medical uses, and the most severe coronavirus cases.
In critical cases, the coronavirus damages healthy tissue in the lungs, making it hard for them to deliver oxygen to the blood. Ventilators feed oxygen into the lungs of patients through a tube inserted down the throat.
Among those involved in the project, mechatronics engineer Michelle Easter said scientists approached the project in the same way they would build a spacecraft, with an eye towards reliability yet simplicity.
NASA says as a result, it is cheaper to build, composed of fewer parts and can be modified for use in field hospitals.
The California Institute of Technology, which manages the JPL, is offering a royalty-free license to manufacturers worldwide and is also contacting the commercial medical industry to find manufacturers for the device.
Easter says they've received interest from potential production partners around the world, not just in the U.S.