Coronavirus: F1 teams rally to build ventilators for NHS

Published 30 March 2020

A breathing aid designed to keep coronavirus suffers out of intensive care has been developed by an action group involving F1 teams.

The aid, known as continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP has been adapted by a team of mechanical engineers working with Mercedes AMG and other teams as part of ‘Project Pitlane.’

The device helps COVID-19 patients with serious lung infections to breathe more easily and has been approved for use in the NHS.

Engineers have been working around the clock since Wednesday, 18 March, to reverse engineer a device that can be rapidly produced by the thousands.

Just 100 hours after the first meeting, the first device was produced and now 100 devices are to be clinically tested with rapid rollout to hospitals all over the country ahead of the predicted surge in infections over the next two weeks.

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

Professor Mervyn Singer, from University College London, 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 Tim Baker, from 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.

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 timeframe."

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).

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