The team, which includes clinicians at the University College London Hospital, used a process called reverse engineering to adapt continuous positive airway pressure — or CPAP — machines in an effort to keep patients out of intensive care, the Guardian reported.
“These devices will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill,” said Mervyn Singer, a critical care consultant at UCLH.
The devices were developed in just days and 100 units are being delivered to the hospital for clinical trials in hopes of deploying them across the UK shortly, according to the news outlet.
If trials go well, up to 1,000 of the machines can be produced daily by Mercedes-AMG-HPP beginning in about a week, according to the BBC.
“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,” Singer said.
CPAP machines have been used extensively in hospitals in China and Italy to help COVID-19 patients with serious lung infections to breathe more easily when oxygen alone is not enough.
About half of the patients in Italy who were put on CPAP have avoided the need for invasive mechanical ventilation, the Guardian reported.
“This breakthrough has the potential to save many lives and allow our frontline NHS staff to keep patients off ventilators,” said Prof. David Lomas, UCL’s vice-provost for health.
“It is, quite simply, a wonderful achievement to have gone from first meeting to regulator approval in just 10 days. It shows what can be done when universities, industry and hospitals join forces for the national good,” he added.
CPAP machines are commonly used to treat obstructive sleep apnea by delivering a constant flow of air through a tube and into the user’s airway – creating enough pressure to hold the tissue open.
The adapted devices push a mix of oxygen and air into patients’ airways allowing their lungs to absorb more oxygen and reducing the effort needed to breathe in when the air sacs, or alveoli, have collapsed due to the illness.
Patients treated with ventilators, which are in short supply, have to be heavily sedated and have a tube inserted into their airway.
Duncan Young, a professor of intensive care medicine at the University of Oxford, sounded a cautionary note, the BBC reported.
“The use of CPAP machines in patients with contagious respiratory infections is somewhat controversial as any small leaks around the mask could spray droplets of secretions on to attending clinical staff,” he said.
Singer said a risk could be minimized if a tight seal is maintained on the mask and medical workers use adequate personal protective equipment.