What does it take to build a ventilator?
Pioneering lifesaving progress in around two weeks
It started with nothing more than an idea and desire to help people. Throw in some formidable engineering skills, a motorbike workshop and a truckload of pioneering spirit – and two weeks later, you have a lifesaving medical device.
That is how Mick Caratti, Chairman of Lycopodium – our engineering partner based in Perth, Western Australia – and his team built a hospital ventilator.
Their starting point was a project by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from a decade ago, when MIT engineers created a ventilator suitable for use in underdeveloped countries, or as an emergency backup for natural disasters and pandemics in the USA. Mick realised that from an engineering point of view it would be relatively easy to use the MIT design to make emergency backup units locally.
So he got a team together – engineers from Lycopodium and ECG Engineering, industry partners who make or supply parts, anaesthetists and emergency medicine specialists. And his friends too: “The ventilator’s prototype arms were made in my mate’s motorcycle workshop one weekend.”
Lycopodium’s ventilator uses electrically powered mechanical arms to pump an “Ambu bag mask” – like the ones used by paramedics and other first responders to resuscitate people. The mask pushes air in and out of a person’s lungs – breathing for them, when they are unable to do it themselves.
The beauty of Lycopodium’s design is that they can quickly make more, and at a low cost, if needed. A normal hospital ventilator can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but Lycopodium’s cost around just A$2,000 to make. LycoVent may not have all the bells and whistles of some hospital ventilators – but it can save lives.
Even though Lycopodium is better known for its engineering and construction expertise in the resources sector, Mick knew they could tackle a medical challenge too. Two weeks and two days later, he was standing with a team of doctors at Perth’s Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital testing a ventilator prototype.
“Back in March – when COVID-19 cases were peaking in Australia – I read an article by a doctor in a remote Indigenous community,” Mick said. “His patients were particularly at risk of severe complications from COVID-19 and he was worried about ventilator shortages if COVID-19 cases grew quickly, as had happened in other countries.”
Since March, Mick and the team have continued to test and improve their model – known as LycoVent – and it will soon undergo certification by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration. Once it is approved, Lycopodium will donate the first 100 units built to wherever they are needed most.
A lifesaving device created in just over two weeks, by a small team of dedicated people working together to make a positive difference in the world. That is what we call partnership – and pioneering progress.