Ask an Academic: Tim Baker on the UCL-Ventura breathing aid
15 September 2020
Professor Tim Baker tells us about the global impact of the UCL-Ventura project and leading the remarkable team of UCL engineers and partners
At the end of March, just days after the UK went into lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, Professor Tim Baker (UCL Mechanical Engineering) played a vital role in the UCL team that produced a breathing aid to help keep COVID-19 patients out of intensive care.
The interdisciplinary team of mechanical engineers from UCL, clinicians from University College London Hospital (UCLH) and Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains, brought together by UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering (IHE), worked around the clock to reverse engineer the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device, called UCL-Ventura. On 7 April, UCL freely released the designs and manufacturing instructions to aid world-wide response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
So far, the UCL-Ventura design license has been downloaded more than 1,900 times in 105 countries spanning Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Australasia. At least 30 teams have manufactured prototypes for testing in Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Germany, India, Iran, Peru, Pakistan, Australia and more.
Most recently, a team in Baja California, Mexico made 100 devices for local hospitals and a team of Ecuadorian researchers, based in Ecuador and abroad, are collaborating to produce the devices for coronavirus patients in their country.
Professor Tim Baker tells us more about the global impact of the project and what it was like to lead the remarkable team of UCL engineers and partners.
How did you get involved in the UCL-Ventura project?
I worked in the motorsports industry for many years, which involves fast-paced precision manufacturing to tight deadlines. So although I’m not a medical expert, when I watched the announcement of the government’s ventilator challenge on Sunday 15 March, I was thinking to myself that creating something as complicated as a mechanical ventilator from scratch takes a long time and we needed something that could be built more efficiently. I didn’t realise that less than 48 hours later I’d be involved in creating the CPAP device. Rebecca Shipley, Director of IHE, reached out to me on Monday 16 March and the next day the project to create the CPAP took off. When I left for work that Tuesday morning, I told my wife I wasn’t sure what time I’d be home, referring to that evening, but I actually didn’t come home for four weeks because things moved so quickly. We spoke to the intensive care team at UCLH and knew we needed to create something simpler than mechanical ventilators, so that’s how the idea to reverse-engineer the CPAP was born.
Did you collaborate with colleagues in other countries in the development process?
Yes. Very early on, Mervyn Singer, Professor of Intensive Care Medicine at UCLH, talked to colleagues in Italy and China, which at that time were dealing with the highest number of COVID-19 cases, to get their perspective and find out what treatment was working...
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