This website uses cookies primarily for visitor analytics. Certain pages will ask you to fill in contact details to receive additional information. On these pages you have the option of having the site log your details for future visits. Indicating you want the site to remember your details will place a cookie on your device. To view our full cookie policy, please click here. You can also view it at any time by going to our Contact Us page.

Formula 1 develops breathing aids for COVID-19 patients in less than 100 hours

30 March 2020

Breathing aids that can keep patients out of intensive care will be used by the NHS.

(Image: UCL)

The breathing aid was adapted by mechanical engineers at UCL and clinicians at UCLH working with Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains (Mercedes-AMG HPP), has been approved for use in the NHS.

Known as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), the breathing aid has been used extensively in hospitals in Italy and China to help COVID-19 patients with serious lung infections to breathe more easily when oxygen alone is insufficient.

Since Wednesday 18th March, engineers at UCL and HPP and clinicians at UCLH have been working round the clock at UCL’s engineering hub, MechSpace, to reverse engineer a device that can be produced rapidly by the thousands. This has now been recommended for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

This breathing aid was produced within a rapid timeframe – it took fewer than 100 hours from the initial meeting to production of the first device. 

One hundred devices are to be delivered to UCLH for clinical trials, with rapid roll-out to hospitals around the country ahead of the predicted surge in COVID-19 hospital admissions.

The collaboration, supported by the National Institute for Health Research UCLH Biomedical Research Centre, demonstrates the way that universities, the NHS and industry are coming together to help the national response to the COVID-19 outbreak – by providing vital technologies to the NHS which can enable it to care for patients who require respiratory support.

Reports from Italy indicate that approximately 50% of patients given CPAP have avoided the need for invasive mechanical ventilation. However, such devices are in short supply in UK hospitals.

UCLH Critical Care Consultant Professor Mervyn Singer (UCL Medicine) said: “These devices will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill.

“While they will be tested at UCLH first, 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.”

Professor Rebecca Shipley, Director of UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering, said:
“At UCL, we have an established ecosystem of partnerships, spanning engineers, healthcare and industry, ready to be mobilised in times of need. It’s been a privilege to work closely with our clinical colleagues and with doctors leading the COVID-19 response in China and Italy. This close contact has helped us to define the need and respond with technology that we hope will support the NHS in the weeks and months to come.”

Professor Tim Baker (UCL Mechanical Engineering) said: “Given the urgent need, we are thankful that we were able to reduce a process that could take years down to a matter of days.

“From being given the brief, we worked all hours of the day, disassembling and analysing an off-patent device. Using computer simulations, we improved the device further to create a state-of-the-art version suited to mass production.

“We were privileged to be able to call on the capability of Formula One – a collaboration made possible by the close links between UCL Mechanical Engineering and HPP.”

Professor David Lomas (UCL Vice-Provost Health) said: “This breakthrough has the potential to save many lives and allow our frontline NHS staff to keep patients off ventilators. I would like to pay tribute to the incredible team of engineers and clinicians at UCL, HPP and UCLH for working round-the-clock to develop this new prototype. It is, quite simply, a wonderful achievement to have gone from first meeting to regulatory approval in just ten days. It shows what can be done when universities, industry and hospitals join forces for the national good.”

Andy Cowell, Managing Director of Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains, said: “The Formula One community has shown an impressive response to the call for support, coming together in the ‘Project Pitlane’* collective to support the national need at this time across a number of different projects. We have been proud to put our resources at the service of UCL to deliver the CPAP project to the highest standards and in the fastest possible time frame.”

Andy Obeid, Chief Executive of Oxford Optronix, a small business that will manufacture the oxygen monitors for the CPAP devices, said: “By working flat out and mobilising the support of every individual in my company as well as other small companies across the UK, we have accomplished something in five days that would normally take two years.

“I am delighted we have been able to design, develop, test and manufacture a bedside monitor that will continuously measure the concentration of oxygen being delivered to the patient and is ready for clinical trials.”

CPAP machines are routinely used by the NHS to support patients in hospital or at home with breathing difficulties. They work by pushing an air-oxygen mix into the mouth and nose at a continuous rate, keeping airways open and increasing the amount of oxygen entering the lungs. Invasive ventilators deliver breaths directly into the lungs but require heavy sedation and connection to a tube placed into the patient’s trachea (windpipe).

*‘Project Pitlane’ is a collective of UK-based Formula 1 teams and their respective technology arms coordinating a response to the UK government’s call for assistance with the manufacture of medical devices. It will pool the resources and capabilities of its member teams, focusing on the core skills of the F1 industry: rapid design, prototype manufacture, test and skilled assembly. F1’s ability to respond rapidly to engineering and technological challenges allows the group to add value to the wider engineering industry’s response.


More information...

Print this page | E-mail this page