Researchers develop low-cost medical ventilators for global disasters

Thursday, May 17th, 2012
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After learning that his hospital would be short ventilators in the event of an influenza pandemic, Matthew Callaghan sketched out concepts for a less expensive ventilator on a napkin at a lunchtime meeting with a fellow physician.


Matthew Callaghan, MD, had an epiphany about medical device design during a pandemic planning meeting, when his hospital was drafting a worst-case scenario protocol to decide which types of patients would receive life support from the hospital’s limited number of breathing ventilators.

 “The physicians assumed that we’d have to ration the ventilators, and that if we put the criteria on paper, we wouldn’t feel bad about the life-or-death decisions we were making,” said Callaghan. “All of a sudden, I realized that the task force wasn’t addressing the root problem. So I asked, ‘Why not design a cheaper ventilator so rationing isn’t necessary?’”

So Callaghan started to think about why ventilators, which primarily move air in and out of impaired lungs, cost upwards of $40,000, and why no one had designed a low-end model that could be stockpiled for large-scale disasters.

“Our team decided to design a ventilator that could operate in the middle of nowhere during emergencies, without all the bells and whistles — such as remote monitoring or neonatal care — that are not only hard to use, but are only needed for one in 1,000 patients,” said Callaghan.

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