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Coronavirus

Fermilab volunteers help develop low-cost ventilator for COVID-19 patients

Simplified ventilator designed by particle physics community gets FDA approval

A team of physicists and scientists from all over the world have come together to design and create a simplified ventilator that recently receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Fermilab researchers played a large role in the device's development.
A team of physicists and scientists from all over the world have come together to design and create a simplified ventilator that recently receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Fermilab researchers played a large role in the device's development.

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A team of physicists and scientists from all over the world have come together to design and create a simplified ventilator that recently receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to a news release from Fermilab.

With the FDA approval, the ventilator has been deemed as safe to use in the U.S. under its Emergency Use Authorization, which helps support public health during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Mechanical Ventilator Milano, or MVM, is the brainchild of physicist Cristiano Galbiati. Hearing reports of ventilator shortages and wanting to help, Galbiati reached out to fellow researchers to develop a ventilator with minimal components that could be quickly produced using commonly available parts.

“The sense of crisis was palpable, and I knew the availability of ventilators was critical,” stated Galbiati, who obtained his Ph.D from the University of Milan, in the news release. “We had been doing some complicated projects in physics that required working with gases, and I thought it our duty to find a way to push oxygen into the lungs of patients.”

Fermilab researchers quickly came on board to work with the team of engineers and physicists to develop the device for delicate lungs.

“There’s a huge benefit we’ve gained from the way particle physics collaborations work,” stated Steve Brice, the head of Fermilab’s Neutrino Division, in the release. “The structure already in place has large, international, multidisciplinary groups. We can re-task that structure to work on something different, and you can move much more quickly.”

The MVM is inspired by the Manley ventilator built in the 1960s. The design is simple, inexpensive, compact and requires only compressed oxygen (or medical air) and a source of electrical power to run. The modern twist comes from the electronics and the control system, the release stated.

“We’re concentrating on the software and letting the hardware be as minimal as it can be,” stated Stephen Pordes, a member of DarkSide and a Fermilab scientist stationed at CERN to work on a prototype detector for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, known as DUNE.

He has volunteered his time to coordinate some of the MVM efforts alongside Cary Kendziora from Fermilab’s Particle Physics Division.

“This project has been growing organically. People see a place where there is a need, and they take their own initiative to help and jump in.”

With collaborators spread across 10 different time zones, work on various systems was able to proceed nearly around the clock, allowing MVM to progress from posting a preprint paper on March 23 to FDA approval on May 1.

“It’s in our DNA to collaborate across borders and in real-time as particle physicists,” Galbiati stated. “As borders went up and supply chains became more difficult, it remained a beacon of hope to me to be able to collaborate internationally. It is important to see that while the virus is spreading around the world at the speed of jets, the research is spreading at the speed of the internet. And if there’s one way that the virus will be defeated, it’s if the research can prevail.”

Learn more about Fermilab's efforts in the fight against COVID-19.

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