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29 February 2024

Khalifa University responds to COVID-19 with emergency ventilators

Photo: WAM


Researchers at Khalifa University’s Healthcare Engineering Innovation Centre, HEIC, are stepping up to serve the UAE’s project to develop emergency ventilators. The researchers have developed a working prototype and are now engineering the production plant to be able to produce the ventilators at scale to meet rising local and global demands, said a press release issued by Khalifa University on Monday.

The team, led by Dr. Cesare Stefanini, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Director of HEIC, is working in response to the global need for increased ventilator manufacturing capacity due to COVID-19.

Though the disease caused by the novel coronavirus often begins as an upper respiratory tract infection with a cough and sore throat, it can enter the lower respiratory tract, where it damages the alveoli of the lungs, flooding them with inflammatory cells and fluid. This makes it harder for oxygen to travel from the lungs to the bloodstream, reducing the oxygen available to the organs that depend on it.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome is the term for the rapid and extensive lung damage that occurs from a severe case of pneumonia. If a patient’s lungs are so compromised that he or she cannot get enough oxygen and a ventilator is used to provide more oxygen to the body.

According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, around 80 percent of people with Covid-19 recover without needing hospital treatment, but one person in six becomes seriously ill and can develop pneumonia, which may require ventilator treatment. As the pandemic continues, thousands of ventilators are needed around the world, and developing them quickly has the potential to save lives.

Dr. Stefanini said, "The number of intensive care beds and mechanical ventilators in hospitals is a fraction of what may be needed in the coming weeks as the situation develops worldwide. We aim to develop a working prototype in less than two weeks, alongside designing a mass production unit. We have all the theoretical and design expertise in our team, especially in the prototyping phase."

KU’s interdisciplinary team of engineers and experts are now working to establish the requirements for a production facility in Abu Dhabi. "The cost and the complexity of the pneumatic system are lower, and considering that there is ample availability in hospitals of compressed air, the pneumatic approach seems the most promising," Dr. Stefanini explained, adding, "This is what the OxVent system uses."

Innovative designs and technologies are undergoing intense research to quickly produce ventilator parts, as well as masks and other essential equipment. The KU team is focusing on low-cost, rapid production using 3D printing and easily accessed materials.

Within the next two weeks, the team aims to have the plan for the production plant finalised and the first units ready to support the UAE’s fight against COVID-19.

"Khalifa University is leading this project but it is a collaborative effort by the health services," Dr. Stefanini said.

This project is a manifestation of the UAE government’s clear and undeterred commitment to conservatively prepare for all the possible scenarios to ensure healthcare for all its residents and citizens, said Professor Ashraf Alzaabi, Head of the Respiratory Division at Zayed Military Hospital in Abu Dhabi, who tested the prototype.