UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering


About UCL-Ventura

A breathing aid that can help keep Covid-19 patients out of intensive care, adapted by engineers at UCL, clinicians at UCLH and working with Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains.

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The breathing aid, known as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), has been used extensively in hospitals in Italy and China to help Covid-19 patients with serious respiratory problems to breathe more easily, when oxygen via a face mask alone alone is insufficient. NHS guidance for the role and use of non-invasive respiratory support (including CPAP) in adult patients with COVID-19 is available on the NHS website here

Our team of mechanical engineers at UCL and Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains, together with clinicians at UCLH, worked round the clock to reverse engineer a CPAP device that could be rapidly manufactured and delivered to NHS hospitals ahead of a predicted surge in hospital admissions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The device we produced, called UCL-Ventura, has gained regulatory approval and the Department of Health and Social Care has ordered up to 10,000. We have conducted successful patient trials at UCLH and sister hospitals, and are now distributing devices to NHS hospitals across England, the devolved nations, and crown dependencies. We have also refined and modified the device to create a Mark II version, which has shown up to 70% reduced oxygen consumption in healthy volunteer assessments. To help meet international need, we have released the designs and manufacturing instructions for free to governments, industry manufacturers, academics and health experts across the globe. 

UCL Ventura project timeline

Why is the UCL-Ventura needed?

Data from Italy indicates that administering CPAP prevents around 50% of patients from needing invasive mechanical ventilation. However, such devices are in short supply in UK hospitals.

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

 “While they will be tested at UCLH first, we hope they will make a real difference to hospitals across the UK by reducing demand on intensive care staff and beds, as well as helping patients recover without the need for more invasive ventilation.”

How did we do it?

This breathing aid was produced within a rapid timeframe – it took fewer than 100 hours from the initial meeting to production of the first device.

Professor Tim Baker (UCL Mechanical Engineering) said: “Given the urgent need, we are thankful that we were able to reduce a process that could take years down to a matter of days.

“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.

“We were privileged to be able to call on the capability of Formula One – a collaboration made possible by the close links between UCL Mechanical Engineering and HPP.”

UCL's CPAP response in numbers

The collaboration, supported by the National Institute for Health Research UCLH Biomedical Research Centre, demonstrates the way that universities, the NHS and industry are coming together to help the national response to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, by providing vital technologies to the NHS which can enable them to care for patients who require respiratory support.

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.”

Professor David Lomas (UCL Vice Provost Health) said: “This breakthrough has the potential to save many lives and allow our frontline NHS staff to keep patients off ventilators. 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.”

UCLH Chief Executive Marcel Levi said: “This is a real team effort and I am proud of colleagues at UCLH and our partners at UCL and HPP for their immense work to produce this device in such a short time. We hope this effort can be rolled out to hospitals across the UK to benefit all patients.

“Everyone involved in this project should know that their efforts will have a truly significant impact on patient care.”

Professor Micheal Arthur, UCL President & Provost said: “I am very proud to see UCL in collaboration with industry and international partners make such a speedy and potentially life-saving contribution to the national interest at this time of unprecedented challenge for our country and so many others around the world."