Mission Monday: NASA develops ventilator for COVID-19 patients

In this week’s Mission Monday, we are exploring a recent NASA innovation helping the response to coronavirus (COVID-19). Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California designed a new high-pressure ventilator tailored specifically to treat COVID-19 patients.

The device, called VITAL (Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally), is designed to treat patients who might not require a full-featured ventilator, thereby keeping the nation’s limited supply of traditional ventilators available for patients with the most severe COVID-19 symptoms.

VITAL poses several benefits in the national response to COVID-19. It can be built faster and maintained more easily than a traditional ventilator, and is composed of far fewer parts, many of which are currently available to potential manufacturers through existing supply chains.

Its flexible design means it also can be modified for use in field hospitals being set up in convention centers, hotels and other high-capacity facilities across the country and around the globe. Intended to last three or four months, the new device wouldn’t replace current hospital ventilators, which can last years and are built to address a broader range of medical issues.

The new high-pressure ventilator was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use under the FDA’s March 24 ventilator Emergency Use Authorization.

“This FDA authorization is a key milestone in a process that exemplifies the best of what government can do in a time of crisis,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “This ventilator is one of countless examples of how taxpayer investments in space exploration – the skills, expertise and knowledge collected over decades of pushing boundaries and achieving firsts for humanity – translate into advancements that improve life on Earth.”

The Office of Technology Transfer and Corporate Partnerships at Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA, is offering a free license for VITAL and is reaching out to the commercial medical industry to find manufacturers for the device.

The Emergency Use Authorization allows for use of the device specifically for COVID-19 patients, with the aim of addressing the acute demand for ventilators during the coronavirus pandemic. Like all ventilators, VITAL requires patients to be sedated and have an oxygen tube inserted into their airway to breathe.

“Fighting the virus and treating patients during this unprecedented global pandemic requires innovative approaches and action. It also takes an all-hands-on-deck approach, as demonstrated by the NASA engineers who used their expertise in spacecraft to design a ventilator tailored for very ill coronavirus patients. This example shows what we can do when everyone works together to fight COVID-19,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn.

To learn more about how NASA is helping in the national response to COVID-19, explore our new exhibit Mission: Control the Spread now on display.

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