Ventilator needs less pressure and oxygen than conventional designs

In certain instances, a person may be unable to breathe on his or her own. The types of injuries that cause a person to be unable to breathe unaided are varied and can be caused by physical trauma or from an inhaled substance among others. In many emergencies, there may no power or no compressed oxygen supplies readily available to power a conventional ventilator.

In a hospital setting there are two types of ventilators available today. Some of the machines are powered by electricity and the electric power to force air in and out of the lungs. Pneumatic ventilators are older technology that require no electricity and get the force needed to inflate the lungs from a compressed gas source typically in the 100-PSI range.

The problem with pneumatically powered ventilators on the market today is that they need either a steady supply of large oxygen or compressed air cylinders or they need to be used in a facility that has compressed gas sources that are large and built-in. This makes the typical pneumatic ventilator difficult to use in the field in a setting where compressed gas tanks are not available.

Doctors in the UK have developed a new type of pneumatic ventilator that is low cost and designed specifically for use in emergency, rural, and military settings. The new design can be built for as little as £200 and needs only 2-4 bar of oxygen pressure to operate. Two bar is roughly 30 psi making the new ventilator much less pressure to operate than conventional designs. Even more important is the fact that the machine needs only one liter per minute of oxygen flow to operate.

"Our research has demonstrated that it is possible to make a gas-efficient ventilator costing less than £200, for use where 2-4 bar oxygen is available, with no pressurized air or electrical requirements," says consultant anesthesiologist Dr. John Dingley from Morriston Hospital, Swansea. "Such a device could be mass-produced for crises where there is an overwhelming demand for mechanical ventilation and a limited oxygen supply."

The doctors were able to use the new ventilator design to inflate a mechanical test lung and demonstrated that the design could ventilate patients that were unable to breathe on their own. The design also needs no electricity. The typical electric microprocessor controlled ventilator costs thousands of dollars; the new design is so cheap that the doctors envision hospitals and emergency organizations stockpiling the cheap ventilators as one time use machines for emergencies.

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