In just 37 days, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California have developed a new high-pressure ventilator to help treat those suffering from the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday the prototype ventilator called VITAL (Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally) passed critical tests at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, an epicentre of coronavirus in the US.

“We specialise in spacecraft, not medical-device manufacturing. But excellent engineering, rigorous testing and rapid prototyping are some of our specialities,” said Michael Watkins, JPL Director.

“When people at JPL realised they might have what it takes to support the medical community and the broader community, they felt it was their duty to share their ingenuity, expertise and drive.”


Source: NASA

VITAL 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 always the ventilator to be modified for use in field hospitals being set up in convention centres, hotels, and other facilities around the globe.

NASA now has to get FDA approval for the device via an emergency use authorisation, a fast-track approval process developed for crisis situations that takes days rather than years.

To get input from a gold-standard medical facility, JPL delivered a prototype of the device to the Human Simulation Lab in the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Mount Sinai for additional testing.

“We were very pleased with the results of the testing we performed in our high-fidelity human simulation lab,” said Dr. Matthew Levin, Director of Innovation for the Human Simulation Lab and Associate Professor of Anesthesiology, Preoperative and Pain Medicine, and Genetics and Genomics Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine.

“The NASA prototype performed as expected under a wide variety of simulated patient conditions. The team feels confident that the VITAL ventilator will be able to safely ventilate patients suffering from COVID-19 both here in the United States and throughout the world.”