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University of Michigan develops VentMI, a personalized splitter for ventilators

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A team from the University of Michigan and Michigan Medicine has developed a personalized 3D printed vent-splitter device that allows for multiple patients to receive tailored pressures from the same ventilator unit. The device, called VentMI, has been licensed by a local startup, MakeMedical LLC, and could help to improve treatment for patients suffering from severe COVID-19 symptoms.

As soon as the ventilator shortage became apparent in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers from the University of Michigan put their minds together to come up with a possible solution to expand the capacity of existing ventilators. Within weeks, the team—along with help from Michigan Medicine—came up with a 3D printed design for an individualized vent-splitter.

Up until now, most vent-splitters have not come with individualized control, so patients sharing a machine must receive one pre-set pressure. This means that for the ventilator to work effectively, the patients using it must have similarly sized lungs with and breathing stiffness. The VentMI system offers a solution, drawing from scuba tank regulators, which control the pressure at which compressed air is released to the lungs.

“The problem is that for patients to share a ventilator using a currently available vent-splitter, they must have the same ventilator needs,” explained Kyle VanKoevering, M.D., from the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Michigan Medicine and an associate faculty member in the department of biomedical engineering at Michigan Engineering. “Otherwise one person may receive excessive volume or pressure on their lungs, which can cause lung trauma. Our design would have much broader use because it solves the problem of different ventilatory requirements and monitoring for people that have different lung sizes and degrees of disease.”

VentMI splitter COVID-19

The VentMI device has already undergone animal testing and has been approved for emergency use by the FDA. The patent-pending technology will be sold and distributed by MakeMedical, a startup in which the U-M team has shares. Notably, the ventilator splitter will be sold at cost to medical providers and institutions, meaning that the startup and U-M do not seek to benefit financially from it.

3D printing enabled the team to develop and test several iterations of the vent-splitter in record time. The 3D printed prototypes were all evaluated and tested on machines in a hospital operating room. Eventually, certain prototype models were tested on pigs. The success of these trials led to the FDA emergency use authorization, which makes the technology available to humans if needed. In times such as these, when ventilators can make the difference between life and death to COVID-19 patients, devices like vent-splitters are vital.

“We have been working 24/7 to develop a system that could at least double ventilator capacity,” added Dr. VanKoevering. “We were looking for innovative ways to potentially help hospitals that were preparing for a ventilator shortage during the pandemic.”

The VentMI device is being manufactured in collaboration with Autocam Medical, which has the capacity to produce hundreds of devices for public distribution before the end of the month. MakeMedical will then take the reins, distributing the vent-splitter domestically in the U.S. and abroad. The device also benefits from being cheap, compact and lightweight, making it easy to ship out and implement. In terms of price, U-M says it is expected to cost about a hundredth of the cost of a new ventilator. Medical providers interested in ordering the VentMI device can reach out directly to MakeMedical.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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