Check out today's featured Invention Award winner, OneBreath, a portable ventilator that saves more lives for less cost.
Four years ago, when Matthew Callaghan was a surgery intern at the University of California at San Francisco, the medical world was buzzing over the prospect of a global flu pandemic. One of the biggest potential problems was logistical: Because 95 percent of the ventilators in the U.S.—which keep critically ill patients breathing when their respiratory system is unable to function—are already in use, thousands of patients would die for lack of available life support. Ventilators cost hospitals from $3,000 up to $40,000 for state-of-the-art models, making it impractical for most hospitals and clinics to stockpile them for emergencies.
Inventor: Matthew Callaghan
Time: 4 years
Is It Ready Yet? 1 2 3 4 5
Whereas most ventilators use expensive flow sensors, servo motors and other specialized components to push air in and out of the lungs, Callaghan started from scratch with a basic pressure sensor, typically used in devices like blood-pressure meters, that cost about $10. As an air compressor forces air into the chest, the sensor, connected to a tube inserted into the mouth, measures the airway pressure. Software uses the pressure sensor’s data to calculate the volume of breath in the lungs—this allows the ventilator to sense when the patient needs to take another breath, at which point the software directs the compressor to supply the air through a valve system. If the patient is beginning to be able to breathe on his own, the software instructs the compressor to supply less air, a feature that helps recovering patients gradually begin to breathe independently again. Other low-cost compressors don’t have this kind of fine-tuned ability to adjust to individual needs.
A round of successful tests on pigs wrapped up last December, and the FDA is expected to review the device for humans this fall. The OneBreath should not need to undergo clinical trials, Callaghan says, since it performs the same air-moving function as existing ventilators. He anticipates that the U.S. government will want to stockpile the device for use during pandemics, but clinicians who have been privy to the OneBreath’s development are excited about its prospects elsewhere as well. “Lots of second- and third-world countries have precious little access to ventilators at all,” says Stephen Ruoss, the medical director of Stanford Respiratory Care Services. “This is a slickly engineered solution.”
Regardless of whether the device turns out to be a moneymaker, Callaghan thinks watching critically ill patients improve will make his efforts worthwhile. “In routine use of this, you’re going to save lives. You don’t want people to think, ‘Am I going to have to duke it out for a ventilator with someone else?’”
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