Cheap, portable, easy-to-use ventilators for respiratory support in pandemics

I think it is worth exploring inventions for cheap, portable, easy-to-use ventilators to address coronavirus, or to prepare for the next respiratory pandemic. OneBreath, a company out of Stanford, apparently [has already invented this](, although I’m not sure if this company is still active (I just emailed them to check). Although I have not fact-checked much of the below, my hunch is that this avenue is promising.

From “[In 2006], when Matthew Callaghan was a surgery intern at the University of California at San Francisco, the medical world was buzzing over the prospect of a global flu pandemic. One of the biggest potential problems was logistical: Because 95 percent of the ventilators in the U.S.—which keep critically ill patients breathing when their respiratory system is unable to function—are already in use, thousands of patients would die for lack of available life support. Ventilators cost hospitals from $3,000 up to $40,000 for state-of-the-art models, making it impractical for most hospitals and clinics to stockpile them for emergencies.

Callaghan, [in 2010] a postdoctoral fellow in Stanford University’s biodesign program, knew that in a pandemic situation, hospitals would have to come up with triage procedures that would leave some to die. If he could develop a reliable, no-frills ventilator, it would eliminate many such heart-wrenching decisions. “I thought, these ventilators cost 40 grand, and they just push air around. It isn’t complicated engineering. You don’t need all the bells and whistles.” That thought was the impetus behind the OneBreath, the ventilator Callaghan invented with a small team of fellow Stanford biodesign students. The device is just a fraction of the cost of a low-end conventional ventilator, runs on a 12-volt battery for six to 12 hours at a time, and is smaller than a toolbox so it can be easily deployed wherever needed.”

Ten years after that article, I’ve [read]( and confirmed with friends in Boston hospitals that ventilator shortage remains a concern in today’s coronavirus pandemic. “If we take the number of ventilators [existing in hospitals and a CDC stockpile] as a proximate limit on the medical resources, it means we can take care of up to 170,000 critically ill patients at the same time.” Compare that to a loose estimate of the number of ventilators needed, whose numbers I have *not* checked (and note that this estimate is based on an overstatement of Marc Lipsitch’s true estimate of COVID prevalence, which I last read was 20-60% of American adults, in the absence of mitigation): “assume that 55% of Americans catch COVID-19 until the end of 2020, and 6% (10.8 million) of them will need ventilators at some point [with each intense case needing a ventilator for 4 weeks]” ( Knowing that that estimate needs to be taken with a fistful of salt, it still seems quite plausible that there will be a ventilator shortage. So what happened to OneBreath?

“A round of successful tests on pigs wrapped up [in December 2009], and the FDA is expected to review the device for humans [in fall 2010]. The OneBreath should not need to undergo clinical trials, Callaghan says, since it performs the same air-moving function as existing ventilators. He anticipates that the U.S. government will want to stockpile the device for use during pandemics, but clinicians who have been privy to the OneBreath’s development are excited about its prospects elsewhere as well.”

What happened to it after that? I would be curious to find out.

For more on how OneBreath works (in case you were interested in designing your own), see the full article: