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According to the Society of Critical Care Medicine, throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States will have the capacity to ventilate about 170,000 patients at one time, while 960,000 patients are projected to require mechanical ventilation. With this forecast comes significant concerns over the availability of mechanical ventilators.

Upon learning about the predicted shortage of mechanical ventilators, a team of 12 residents in the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital have stepped in with an idea to address the crisis: the CoVent-19 Challenge, an initiative to crowdsource solutions from the global medical community for rapidly deployable designs for ventilation alternatives.

The COVID-19 virus has shown to cause severe respiratory conditions such as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). When the infection is severe, the effort of breathing increases, making it difficult to supply oxygen to vital organs. As such, patients may require extra breathing support from a mechanical ventilator, a machine that takes over the effort of breathing so that the lungs have time to heal.

Diana Barragan-Bradford, MD, anesthesia resident at Mass General and CoVent Challenge co-director, shares more about the challenge.

Q. How did this challenge begin?

A. As Mass General anesthesiologists, we are experts in mechanical ventilation. It’s what we do every day not only in the operating room, but also while taking care of critically ill patients in the intensive care units. As we watched the story of the predicted shortage unfold, we felt an immediate call since we know how critical is to have a ventilator available when a patient develops respiratory failure.

Although ramping up production of traditional ventilators will help address the deficit in mechanical ventilators around the world, the speed and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic require urgent solutions to be deployed globally, including in low-resource areas where standard mechanical ventilators may be challenging to obtain.

Q. What is involved in the challenge?

A. The CoVent-19 Challenge is an open innovation eight-week challenge for engineers, innovators and designers to produce designs for two devices:

  1. A rapidly deployable ventilation system
  2. A device to safely modify existing ventilators to ventilate two patients at one time

Each submission will be judged by a panel of 10 medical experts and 10 technical experts. Both panels are available for questions throughout the duration of the submission period, to help guide the ideation of sound devices.

Upon selection of the best ideas, prototypes will be 3D printed by one of the challenge’s primary sponsors, Stratasys, and disseminated for real-world use.

While we’ve been communicating about the challenge since its inception two weeks ago, the official launch date and call for submissions begins on April 1, 2020.

Q. Are there long-term implications in mind?

A. Our hope is that these prototypes could work for a variety of pulmonary conditions, as well as assist countries with low resources. One of our goals in mind is to optimize our resources to answer the clinical needs around the world.

We became doctors to bring people hope in times of darkness. This challenge is one way to serve this mission.