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Coronavirus: UT researchers developing emergency ventilator prototype

The group is hoping to soon have companies license the ventilator for free once it is FDA approved, so it can be mass-produced.

AUSTIN, Texas — If you were to walk around UT Austin's campus right now, you'd notice how quiet it is as classes have moved online amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

But inside the Biomedical Engineering Building, it's quite the opposite as UT researchers near completion on a prototype for an emergency ventilator for doctors. 

"I think this can be the difference between life or death for some people, I really do," said Arnold Estrada, a research fellow with UT. 

Estrada said the project started just 10 days ago as concerns over coronavirus were ramping up.

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“Basically, what we’re doing is, you know, we had this idea along with others to try to build an emergency ventilator," Estrada said. “So, the videos you see – early prototypes where we have the device inflating lungs from a CPR dummy, which is important because it simulates the load on the lungs."

The video below shows an early version of the prototype ventilator.  

"The idea is to basically build a machine, so a mechanical hand which squeezes that thing, so that health care providers can ... you know, they’re not tied one person to the patient the entire time. They can get the machine going and go look at other patients," Estrada said. 

"So, we're working with the FDA. They have something called an 'Emergency Use Authorization' that's an expedited way to get these devices approved for the crisis," Aydin Zahedivash said. “Having us together ideating along the way hand in hand I think will help us..."

Approval could take one to two weeks upon submission, according to Zahedivash.

Once approved, the group of researchers is hoping to soon have companies license the ventilator for free so mass production can happen. 

"Other companies can then license for free and just build as many as they can, sell them if they want, just do it out of the goodness of their heart," Estrada said. "We want a small manufacturing company to take our design and then build a bunch of these very quickly."

He also mentioned that more funding for the project would help speed things up. 

"Having more money and having more partners means we can go faster," Estrada said. "We have much more flexibility on how you treat the patients. We have a little control over the important parameters, of how much volume, what the breath rate is, that kind of thing."

WATCH: UT 3D printing medical masks

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