Joint Research Office


Breathing aid design made freely available

7 April 2020

The designs of a new breathing aid developed by engineers at UCL and Formula One working with clinicians at UCLH have been made freely available to support the global response to Covid-19.

The UCL-Ventura breathing aid, a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device, helps Covid-19 patients with lung infections to breathe more easily, when an oxygen mask alone is insufficient.

CPAP devices are in short supply in UK hospitals, so engineers at UCL and Mercedes-AMG HPP worked round-the-clock to reverse engineer a device that could be manufactured rapidly by the thousands.

The breathing aid was produced, with support from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at UCLH, within a rapid timeframe – it took fewer than 100 hours from the initial meeting to production of the first device. Mark II of the device, which has reduced oxygen consumption by up to 70% compared to the Mark I model, received MHRA regulatory approval last week.

All the details required to make the device are also now available for manufacturers to download at no cost at covid19research.uclb.com/product/ucl-cpap, a research licensing website developed by UCL Business to disseminate technologies that may help the fight against Covid-19. The licensed package includes not only the designs, but also specifies materials, tools and kit used in the rapid prototyping process, as well as the fabrication time for each part.

It is hoped that, by making this information widely available, this may help the global response to the crisis by enabling healthcare systems around the world to provide respiratory support for patients with Covid-19.

Governments, relevant industry manufacturers, academics and health experts will be able to request access to the designs to ensure quality control over the manufacture. These would also have to meet regulatory approval in the relevant country.

The UCL-Ventura has now undergone patient evaluations at UCLH and across sister hospitals in the London area. After a UK Government order for up to 10,000, the devices are being produced at a rate of up to 1,000 a day at the HPP technology centre in Brixworth, Northamptonshire. Currently, 40 machines that would normally produce F1 pistons and turbochargers are being used for production of the CPAP devices, and the entire Brixworth facility has been repurposed to meet this demand.

Professor Rebecca Shipley, Director of UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering, said: “These life-saving devices are relatively simple to manufacture and can be produced quickly. We hope that, by making the blueprints publicly available, they can be used to improve the resilience of healthcare systems preparing for the Covid-19 pandemic globally. My thanks goes 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.”

UCLH critical care consultant Professor Mervyn Singer (UCL Medicine) said: “This week we have seen the UCL-Ventura help dozens of patients with Covid-19 breathe more easily.

“These devices can help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a precious resource, are used only for the most severely ill. We and others are finding that a significant proportion of patients treated with CPAP can avoid mechanical ventilation.”

Professor Tim Baker (UCL Mechanical Engineering): “In creating these devices, speed was of the utmost importance. We are thankful that the designs are now available for manufacturers around the world at a critical time for many countries preparing for a pandemic. ”

Professor David Lomas (UCL Vice Provost Health) said: “These life-saving devices will provide vital support to the NHS in coming weeks, helping to keep patients off ventilators and reducing demand on intensive care beds and staff. We believe they can also make a real difference around the world in supporting healthcare systems preparing for Covid-19.”

Andy Cowell, Managing Director of Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains, said: “Since the project was announced, we have received an incredible number of enquiries about the CPAP device from around the world. Making the design and manufacturing specifications openly available will allow companies around the world to produce these devices at speed and at scale to support the global response to Covid-19.”

Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President & Provost said: “This demonstrates what extraordinary things can be achieved when universities, hospitals and industry work together for the national good. These devices, which can play a vital role in keeping patients out of intensive care, have been produced in just a couple of weeks as a result of the close collaboration between UCL, UCLH and HPP. The UCL community is incredibly proud of the entire team behind this breakthrough.”

UCLH chief executive Marcel Levi said: “This is another example of teamwork as the NHS, universities and industry come together to provide creative solutions that can be applied immediately. UCLH is very proud to work with UCL and HPP to bring a major healthcare innovation to patients worldwide.”

Professor Bryan Williams (UCL Medicine), Director of the Biomedical Research Centre at UCLH, said: “To take this, in a matter of days, from concept, through to manufacture, testing and distribution to the front line of the NHS and beyond is truly remarkable by any standard.”

CPAP machines are routinely used by the NHS to support patients in hospital or at home with breathing difficulties. They work by pushing an air-oxygen mix into the mouth and nose at a continuous pressure, keeping airways open and increasing the amount of oxygen entering the blood stream. Invasive ventilators deliver breaths directly into the lungs, but require heavy sedation and connection to a tube placed into the patient’s trachea (windpipe).

The breathing aid 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 is insufficient.

The collaboration has been supported by the National Institute for Health Research UCLH Biomedical Research Centre.