First the Micks, Now the Gophs

Last week, I was impressed by the impact Colin Keogh and his organization The Rapid Foundation made by open-sourcing low cost, 3D printed ventilators to answer the global shortage during this coronavirus pandemic.

But I’ve just learned about another humanitarian working closer to home.

Using spare parts, Dr. Stephen Richardson and his team at the University of Minnesota has created a $150 solution to the ventilator crisis. Dr. Richardson is a cardiac anesthesiologist whose idea came from a simple concept; “how we could just automate using an Ambu bag…could we make a machine that could squeeze that for us?”

Ambu bags are widely available in ambulances for paramedics to force air into lungs and manually resuscitate patients. Dr. Richardson thought if they could find an automated mechanism to press the bag, and adjust it to control the volume and limit the air pressure being pushed into patients, they could create a low-cost hack to answer the crisis.

Starting with this widely available product, Dr. Richardson’s team cobbled together a working prototype from low cost parts within hours. On Sunday, March 15th, they hooked it up to an anesthesia machine.

And it worked.

“This is not a device that anyone would choose to use if they had a … super high-end alternative,” he said. But that’s not important now. Given the global ventilator shortage, sharing plans for a cheap alternative online so hospitals around the world can build their own is a godsend. And literally, a life saver.

Ugly, but effective like all good hacks.

Having worked directly with the U as a client, this is the kind of science they do regularly. The federal request arrived on March 13, when the university agreed to review and fund rapid response grants. A raft of their scientists started working immediately. That’s what research universities do.

Six days later, Dr. Richardson’s team successfully tested their fourth prototype on pigs, using pieces sourced from biomedical companies across the Twin Cities. And now they are scaling up for global production.

“People have just been working around the clock every day since Sunday morning, and we have a ventilator that I would be comfortable with someone taking care of me (with) in an ICU or in an operating room,” Dr. Richardson said.

Dr. Richardson’s team will share their latest prototype online tomorrow, Monday the 23rd. With any luck, they will be granted emergency use authorization from the FDA to speed their innovation into production. If that happens, the team will also provide their design for free on-line.

As we hear more of these stories about smart people working for the greater good, perhaps our country will return to the understanding that science, not ideology, saves lives.