UCL and Formula One develop life-saving breathing aids for NHS

A breathing aid that can help keep Covid-19 patients out of intensive care, adapted by mechanical engineers at UCL and clinicians at UCLH working with Mercedes-AMG High-Performance Powertrains (Mercedes-AMG HPP), has been approved for use in the NHS.

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 lung infections to breathe more easily when oxygen alone is insufficient.

Since Wednesday 18th March, engineers at UCL and HPP and clinicians at UCLH have been working round the clock at UCL’s engineering hub MechSpace to reverse engineer a device that can be produced rapidly by the thousands. This has now been recommended for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

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. One hundred devices are to be delivered to UCLH for clinical trials, with rapid roll-out to hospitals around the country ahead of the predicted surge in Covid-19 hospital admissions.

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.

Reports from Italy indicate that approximately 50% of patients given CPAP have avoided the need for invasive mechanical ventilation. However, such devices are in short supply in UK hospitals.

These devices will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill

UCLH critical care consultant Professor Mervyn Singer (UCL Medicine)

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

Project Pitlane is a collective of UK-based Formula 1 teams and their respective technology arms coordinating a response to the UK government’s call for assistance with the manufacture of medical devices. It will pool the resources and capabilities of its member teams, focusing on the core skills of the F1 industry: rapid design, prototype manufacture, test and skilled assembly. F1’s ability to respond rapidly to engineering and technological challenges allows the group to add value to the wider engineering industry’s response.

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