May 18, 2020

MIT engineers propose a safer method for sharing ventilators

As more COVID-19 patients experience acute respiratory distress, there has been much debate over the idea of sharing ventilators, which involves splitting air tubes into multiple branches so that two or more patients can be connected to the same machine.

Several physicians’ associations have issued a joint statement discouraging this practice. It poses risk to patients, they say, because of the difficulty in ensuring that each patient is receiving the right amount of air.

A team of researchers from MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital has now come up with a new approach to splitting ventilators, which they believe could address many of these safety concerns. They have demonstrated its effectiveness in laboratory tests, but they still caution it should be used only as a last resort during an emergency, when a patient’s life is at stake.

The researchers are now working to engage with third parties for the purpose of seeking emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which would grant temporary approval for using this approach on patients during the Covid-19 pandemic. Traverso is the senior author of a paper describing the new system today in Science Translational Medicine, and Shriya Srinivasan, a postdoc at MIT and BWH, is the lead author of the study.

The research was funded by the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness (MassCPR), the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, in-kind services from Philips, and discretionary funds from the MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.