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Cornell ECE Ph.D. student Landon Ivy assembled a team to work on a new project: produce a safe, simple and reliable ICU mechanical ventilator.

Landon Ivy started his Ph.D. work with Professor Amit Lal’s SonicMEMS Lab, developing new processes for micro electrostatic linear actuators which will eventually drive the locomotion of a microbot. He had cultivated an affinity for working on hardware during his undergraduate studies, and when he got to Cornell he spent as much time as he could in the Cornell NanoScale Facility (CNF).

Then the pandemic forced Ivy along with all of his SonicMEMS Lab colleagues off campus. “A few days later, Dr. Lal got the word that there would be a ventilator shortage, so he encouraged the group to brainstorm,” Ivy said. Since he wouldn’t be able to resume work in the CNF for the foreseeable future, Ivy assembled a team to work on a new project: produce a safe, simple and reliable ICU mechanical ventilator.

“I had never produced any medical equipment before,” Ivy said. “I took a bunch of clinician training classes online and read through a couple of textbooks on ventilator design.” User manuals from existing ventilators were also helpful, he said.

Typically, ventilators are made almost entirely of custom parts, some of which are sourced from various vendors around the world. That’s one reason why companies had such a hard time ramping up ventilator production as the pandemic began, and why most ventilators are quite expensive ($25 to $50 thousand for a high-end ICU ventilator). 

“My goal was to make an emergency response ventilator capable of safely ventilating a COVID-19-induced ARDS patient using inexpensive and readily available components,” Ivy said. He wanted to use parts that could be quickly and easily sourced and assembled by people with limited funds. The final version cost only $2750 to make.

Ivy detailed the ventilator project and construction in a video produced in his home lab—his bedroom. 

“The patient circuit is a single-limb which is optimized for cleanliness,” he said. “The inspiration line doesn’t get contaminated during expiration like in a dual-limb ventilator.” 

He used a non-rebreathing valve normally used for a bag valve mask (sometimes known by the proprietary name Ambu bag, a hand-held breathing-assistance device) to further isolate the patient from contaminating the rest of the system. ”This is something I haven’t seen on any other ventilator,” Ivy said. 

The ventilator’s modularity, that it can function as a transport or an ICU ventilator, running with a desktop or laptop, is one of the key innovations of Ivy’s design. By running multiple instances of the clinician software, a single tablet or computer can govern multiple ventilators remotely, so nurses can monitor many patients without having to enter their rooms.

Ivy hopes that the progress and findings he was able to demonstrate with his home build might garner the support necessary for animal testing, or at the very least lead to further innovations within the health science community.

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