UCL Engineering


UCL engineers develop COVID-19 breathing aid in just four days

Engineers from UCL team up with clinicians and innovation specialists to develop new breathing aid for sick COVID-19 patients in record time.

The UCL Ventura CPAP breathing aid device.

5 November 2021

In the middle of March 2020, the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital with respiratory problems began rising rapidly. Official guidance recommended early mechanical ventilation, but there was little hope of manufacturing enough of these complicated machines in time.   

Clinicians at University College London Hospitals (UCLH) realised the need for an alternative: a less invasive breathing aid, called a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device.  

CPAPs work with a close fitting face mask, and avoid the need for sedation and intubation (inserting a tube). But UCLH had very few of these, and were unable to buy them in bulk as the model was no longer produced. 

So, working with engineers at UCL’s Mechanical Engineering department and Mercedes AMG HPP, who were already collaborating on other projects, they jointly set about reverse engineering their own CPAP device. Within just four days, they arrived at a working prototype called the UCL-Ventura. They gained approval from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency just 10 days later.  

The designs and manufacturing instructions were then made freely available through UCLB, the commercialisation arm of UCL and part of UCL Innovation & Enterprise.  

The UK Government’s Department of Health and Social Care has since ordered 10,000 devices, and they’ve already been used by organisations in over 100 countries. 

Professor Rebecca Shipley, Director of UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering, who co-led the UCL-Ventura team alongside Professor Tim Baker, said: “These life-saving devices are relatively simple to manufacture and can be produced quickly. My thanks go to the brilliant engineers, business managers and team at UCLB who have come together and made this happen at a pace that would be considered unimaginable under normal circumstances.”  

Read the full story on the UCL Innovation & Enterprise website.



  • Credit: James Tye/UCL.

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