Mercedes and UCL engineers develop Covid-19 breathing aid

A breathing aid that can help keep Covid-19 patients out of intensive care has been produced from scratch in just under one week.

CPAP breathing aid
A volunteer ‘patient’ with the newly developed CPAP device. Credit: James Tye / UCL

The CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device, which delivers oxygen into the lungs without the need for an invasive ventilator has been developed by engineers from UCL (University College London) and Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains; and clinicians at UCLH.

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CPAP machines are routinely used to support patients in hospital or at home with breathing difficulties. Unlike ventilators, which require heavy sedation and connection to a tube placed into the patient’s trachea, they work by pushing an air-oxygen mix into the mouth and nose at a continuous rate through a mask.

The devices have been used extensively in hospitals in Italy and China to help Covid-19 patients, and reports from Italy indicate that approximately 50 per cent of patients given CPAP have avoided the need for invasive mechanical ventilation.

“These devices will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill,” said UCLH critical care consultant Professor Mervyn Singer.

This system has now been recommended for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and one hundred devices are to be delivered to UCLH for clinical trials. Rapid roll-out to hospitals around the country is expected to happen ahead of the predicted surge in Covid-19 hospital admissions.

UCL’s Professor Tim Baker explained that the team was able to develop the CPAP breathing aid device so rapidly by reverse engineering an existing off-patent device. “From being given the brief, we worked all hours of the day, disassembling and analysing an off-patent device. Using computer simulations, we improved the device further to create a state-of-the-art version suited to mass production,” he said.

“This breakthrough has the potential to save many lives and allow our frontline NHS staff to keep patients off ventilators,” added Professor David Lomas, UCL Vice Provost Health. “I would like to pay tribute to the incredible team of engineers and clinicians at UCL, HPP and UCLH, for working round-the-clock to develop this new prototype. It is, quite simply, a wonderful achievement to have gone from first meeting to regulator approval in just ten days. It shows what can be done when universities, industry and hospitals join forces for the national good.”

Commenting on Mercedes’ involvement Andy Cowell, managing director of Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains, said: “The Formula One community has shown an impressive response to the call for support, coming together in the ‘Project Pitlane’ collective to support the national need at this time across a number of different projects. We have been proud to put our resources at the service of UCL to deliver the CPAP project to the highest standards and in the fastest possible timeframe.”