UK trials new breathing aid developed by Mercedes Formula One

Devices deliver air without patients needing ventilators, which are in short supply and involve a more invasive process.

Cyclists pass an electronic billboard displaying a Public health information campaign message from the UK government and local government in London as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
Cyclists pass an electronic billboard displaying a campaign message from the UK government and local government in London as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues [Toby Melville/Reuters]

A new version of a breathing aid that can help coronavirus patients has been developed in less than a week by a team involving Mercedes Formula One, and is being trialled at London hospitals.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices have been used in China and Italy to deliver air and oxygen under pressure to patients’ lungs to help them breathe without the need for them to go on a ventilator, a more invasive process.

Use of the new CPAP has already been approved by the relevant regulator, and now 100 of the machines will be delivered to University College London Hospital for trials, before being rolled out to other hospitals.

Reports from Italy indicate that approximately 50 percent of patients given CPAP have avoided the need for invasive mechanical ventilation – which involves patients being sedated – freeing up ventilators for those more in need.

“These devices will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill,” UCLH critical care consultant Professor Mervyn Singer said in a statement on Monday.

“We hope they will make a real difference to hospitals across the UK by reducing demand on intensive care staff and beds, as well as helping patients recover without the need for more invasive ventilation.”

The new breathing aid was developed by engineers and clinicians at UCLH teaming up with Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains who worked at UCL’s MechSpace hub to reverse-engineer a device that can be produced quickly.

Asked about the risk to healthcare workers of using CPAPs as contaminated droplets can escape from the device, Rebecca Shipley, director of UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering, told the BBC that the risks were very low if those workers wore appropriate personal protective equipment.

She also said production of the new device could be scaled up very quickly.

“Mercedes can make 1,000 a day within a week, and if the tests go well they can be in the NHS by the end of this week,” Shipley told BBC radio.

Development of the new device took fewer than 100 hours from initial meeting to production of the first one. The team working on it also includes Oxford Optronix, a small company that will manufacture the oxygen monitors for the CPAP devices.

Britain announced separately on Monday that it has placed an order for 10,000 ventilators to be made by a consortium of companies including Ford, Airbus and Rolls-Royce as part of efforts to fight the coronavirus, an industry source told Reuters.

Meanwhile, according to Neil Ferguson, a professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, the coronavirus epidemic in the UK is showing signs of easing.

“We think the epidemic is just about slowing in the UK right now,” Ferguson told BBC radio.

Britain, which has the world’s fifth-largest economy, initially took a modest approach to containing the spread of the disease, in comparison to European countries such as Italy.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed stringent controls after projections showed a quarter of a million people could die.

Johnson on Friday became the first leader of a major power to announce a positive test result for coronavirus. He is self-isolating in Downing Street.

Source: Reuters