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Mercedes aids rapid development of COVID-19 breathing aid

by Matt Beer
3 min read

Mercedes’ Formula 1 engine division High Performance Powertrains has assisted the development of a breathing aid to help keep coronavirus patients from intensive care.

The seven British-based F1 teams are working collectively under the ‘Project Pitlane’ banner to assist with the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including scaling the production of ventilators to hit the government’s target of building 30,000.

However, there are other ways F1’s expertise can be deployed within the Project Pitlane remit, and Mercedes HPP engineers have worked with UCL mechanical engineers and University College Hospital clinicians on an aid called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP).

“We were privileged to be able to call on the capability of Formula 1” :: Professor Tim Baker

CPAP machines are used by the NHS to support patients in hospital or at home with breathing difficulties and have been used in hospitals in Italy and China, the two countries hit hardest, in the response to the current global outbreak.

They assist patients with serious lung infections, and UCL has liaised with Italian medical staff who indicate “approximately 50% of patients given CPAP have avoided the need for invasive mechanical ventilation”.

With such devices in short supply in UK hospitals, Mercedes HPP has assisted a group working since March 18 to ‘reverse engineer’ – examining the design and construction – a device to create one that can be produced rapidly “by the thousands”.

It took “fewer than 100 hours” from the first meeting to produce the first device and the design has now been approved for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

Mercedes HPP managing director Andy Cowell said: “The Formula 1 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 machine Mercedes F1 tech

If the CPAP can be rolled out and used effectively it may mean COVID-19 patients do not need to use a ventilator.

The CPAP pushes an air-oxygen mix into the mouth and nose at a continuous rate, while full ICU ventilators are more invasive and require heavy sedation and connection to a tube placed into the patient’s windpipe to breath directly into the lungs.

While other workstreams in Project Pitlane will attempt to help hit the UK government’s target of mass-producing respirators, initiatives like this will also play a part in overcoming the supply challenge.

CPAP machine Mercedes F1 tech

According to UCL, 100 devices are to be delivered to its teaching hospital “for clinical trials, with rapid roll-out to hospitals around the country ahead of the predicted surge in COVID-19 hospital admissions”.

“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,” said professor Tim Baker of UCL Mechanical Engineering.

“We were privileged to be able to call on the capability of Formula 1 – a collaboration made possible by the close links between UCL Mechanical Engineering and HPP.”

The seven F1 teams are also part of the VentilatorChallengeUK consortium, a group of industrial, technology and engineering businesses bidding to produce medical ventilators for the UK.

More than 10,000 Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator System (RMVS) units, which “combines existing proven clinical equipment and is the clinicians’ first choice for the RMVS”, have now been ordered by the UK government.

A statement said the companies in the consortium – which includes Airbus, Ford and Rolls-Royce – “anticipate a straightforward and very prompt regulatory sign off after the final audit” and production will begin this week.

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