PUCP engineers design pulmonary ventilators to attend coronavirus emergencies

They plan to manufacture 100 low-cost, fast-deployment mechanical respirators. These would be key to saving lives if our health system were saturated by this pandemic.

Autor: Israel Guzmán
PUCP engineers design pulmonary ventilators to attend coronavirus emergencies

On the morning of Saturday, March 21st, with our university almost empty, a group of engineers worked in the laboratory of the Medical Equipment and Systems Development Research Group (GIDEMS) on our campus. The session was brief and the tests successful. In just a week, they managed to finish designing an emergency mechanical respirator that could save coronavirus patients (COVID-19), but this race is far from over.

“Our goal is to manufacture 100 approved equipments in two months,” indicates Javier Chang, electronic engineer and PUCP professor for 25 years. “At first it seemed impossible, but the pieces are falling into place,” he says optimistically.

The Rectorate of our university commissioned Castañeda to coordinate different technological initiatives that help our country in the fight against  coronavirus.

Dr. Benjamín Castañeda, director of PUCP Medical Engineering Research Center, has extensive experience in the development of medical technology.

Emergency response

Coronavirus can cause respiratory infections that, in their most serious cases, require hospitalization of the patient with assistance of expensive mechanical respiration equipment. In this sense, isolation measures dictated by the Government aim to minimize contagions to avoid saturating our already precarious health system.

“In Peru there must be 250 to 300 high-end respirators. Unfortunately, due to experiences in other countries, they are going to be insufficient,” says Benjamín Castañeda, director of PUCP Medical Engineering Research Center.

It should be noted that, while a high-end respirator can exceed $ 50,000, those for this project would be around $ 1,500.

Last Saturday, March 14th, a day before president Vizcarra decreed the mandatory quarantine, the rector of our university commissioned him to coordinate various technological initiatives that could help our country in the fight against coronavirus.

“Given PUCP’s experience with medical equipment, we decided that aiming to manufacture these emergency ventilators would be a key project. These can make a difference in the coming months,” explains the also coordinator of our Biomedical Engineering career.

It should be noted that, while a high-end respirator can exceed $ 50,000, those for this project would be around $ 1,500.

Immediate design

In addition to Castañeda and Chang, the working group is made up of professors Bruno Castillón, director of GIDEMS; Sandra Pérez and Gabriela Salmón, from Biomedical Engineering; and Jorge Benavides and Jordi Cook, from Electronic Engineering; as well as Augusto Acosta, graduate and former professor of the Industrial Design career.

The first thing they did was to inform the National Institute of Health, a branch of MINSA, about this initiative, thanks to which they received special circulation passes necessary to hold work meetings, carry out tests and collect the experience of doctors working in cases of coronavirus.

“We have gone to the Dos de Mayo Hospital, the San Pablo Clinic and the International Clinic to collect information on the technical characteristics -pressure, volume or frequency of flow, among others- that the fans must have,” says Castañeda.

The group will also have a meeting, this Monday 23rd, with Gloria Gutiérrez, director of MINSA’s Equipment and Maintenance Office, to finish validating the specifications and the use of the mechanical emergency fans.

Interdisciplinary experience

Chang leads the team responsible for the design and implementation of the electronic part of these respirators. “We have learned a lot from the doctors who treat real cases and we have designed based on that. We are looking at the logistics issue, because there are components that must be brought from the United States,” he explains.

In parallel, another group looks at the medical aspects, which involves tests in the GIDEMS laboratory -in which professor Castillón has extensive experience given his work on assisted breathing for neonates- and coordination for future tests with the UNMSM.

The prototyping phase is the first of four stages, and was developed after reviewing similar international practices and accessing information from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “This is a large project with many people involved; the idea is to share information and specifications,” says Chang.

In turn, the experience of our professors and graduates will be essential to meet the tight schedule. “Beyond academic knowledge, there are many practical topics: obtaining financing, importing, manufacturing in the shortest possible time,” he lists. We are navigating through this situation as it evolves. But for respirators to be used they need the final authorization from the State.

Clinical validation

Thus, in parallel to the development of mechanical respirators, the group is prepared to support MINSA in the development of a plan for validating medical equipment for emergencies. “This is a process that does not exist in Peru and we hope that MINSA designates a working group as soon as possible,” says Castañeda.

This week, the PUCP task force will focus on building the first prototype for preliminary testing and getting it ready for clinical validation. “We aspire to have validation on May 1st and to start building twenty respirators per day,” says Castañeda.

Equipment recovery with 3D parts

Our university has also offered support to MINSA in order to generate a recovery plan for mechanical ventilation equipment discharged due to lack of clinical management.

Likewise, the PUCP Electronic Engineering career has offered support for the recovery of this equipment and the printing of necessary parts in our 3D SalaVEO.

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