British experts have developed a new type of ventilation that could potentially treat more patients with severe Covid-19 outside of the intensive care unit.
The researchers said their device, known as the exovent, is more comfortable for the patient, cheaper than the one currently used in intensive care units (ICU), and requires fewer human resources to manage it.
Exovent is a negative pressure ventilator – which means it lowers the pressure outside the body so the lung tissue can expand and function in a way that is similar to normal breathing.
It works differently than traditional positive pressure ventilators, which instead push air into the lungs.
As positive pressure devices became much smaller, cheaper, and more convenient over the years, research on negative pressure devices has largely ceased since the 1950s.
However, the scientists behind exovent said negative pressure devices are far less intrusive than positive pressure ventilation, which involves inserting a tube into the windpipe, or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which involves delivering oxygen through a tight-fitting face mask.
Patients don’t need to be sedated and can take food and medication orally, as well as talk to loved ones on the phone when using Exovent, they added.
Ian Joesbury, CEO of exovent, said: “We are very excited to introduce this lifesaving system, which is an innovative reinvention of existing technology.
“Because the patient does not need to be sedated, alternative treatment options are opening up that may allow more patients with Covid-19 to be treated outside of the intensive care unit.”
A team of anesthesiologists, nurses and engineers were involved in the design of the exovent chamber, which consists of a base mounted on a standard hospital bed.
A pump unit is connected to the base by hoses, and the pressure around the upper body can be adjusted with a control unit.
The patient’s upper body can be monitored through a window and made accessible through portholes.
The device was tested on six healthy adults in the presence of three experienced anesthetists.
According to the researchers, exovent “was able to provide people who breathe spontaneously with both increased lung expansion and strong ventilation to completely take over people’s breathing, using only moderate negative pressures.”
However, they said a clinical study is needed to fully test the device.
They believe that exovent can also help people with other respiratory diseases such as pneumonia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
According to the team, an exovent device costs around £ 8,000, which makes it cheaper than existing positive pressure devices, which cost around £ 15,000 for CPAP machines and more than £ 30,000 for ICU ventilators.
The researchers said they plan to submit their exovent design to the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which regulates medical devices in the UK.
In the meantime, the details of the device have been published in the journal Anesthesia.