Converting respiratory machines for COVID-19 patients

By Kristen Meub

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Sandia develops 100 conversion kits for distribution to New Mexico hospitals

ventilator conversion kits
PATHOGEN MANAGEMENT — Sandia researchers developed pathogen management kits that can be attached to respiratory machines. The kits use ultraviolet light to disable COVID-19 and other pathogens before a patient’s exhaled breath is circulated back into the room. (Photos by Adam Cook)

In less than a month, Sandia has converted 100 respiratory machines already on hand at New Mexico hospitals into machines that can safely be used as ventilators to help treat patients with severe cases of COVID-19.

BiPAP and CPAP machines are non-invasive ventilators that use masks instead of tubes. They cannot normally be used to treat patients with COVID-19 because they expel a patient’s breath into the room, contaminating the area with virus droplets and putting medical staff at risk of exposure.

To mitigate the limitation, a team of Sandia researchers developed pathogen management kits. The kits attach to respiratory machines and use ultraviolet light to disable COVID-19 and other pathogens before a patient’s exhaled breath is circulated back into the room.

“Our local hospitals told us that they need solutions now,” said project lead and senior manager Ryan Haggerty. “Based on conservative models of ventilator availability in Albuquerque during this pandemic, there will not be enough ventilators to meet the projected need. We are trying to address the gap between now and when large companies that are producing high-end ventilators will be ready to ship machines to hospitals.”

The team partnered with Presbyterian Healthcare Services and the University of New Mexico Hospital to make sure they were working to address the biggest needs of local hospitals. The hospitals provided information about the type and amount of equipment they had available for conversion, and what modifications would be most helpful for safely treating patients with COVID-19.

Rapid response

ventilator affixed with kit

The project progressed from the idea phase to design, testing and validation within about three weeks. After a prototype of the kit was built and attached to a non-invasive ventilator, the team conducted biological and aerosol testing to ensure the design was safe and effective.

Sandia is ready to deliver its first round of pathogen management kits for non-invasive ventilators for distribution to New Mexico hospitals, effectively increasing the state’s ventilator count by 100.

The team plans to transfer the pathogen management kit technology to a regional manufacturer through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement to increase the production rate substantially.

Future developments

The team also is designing an alarm system that can be added to any ventilator to help keep patients safe when non-standard equipment is being used. The alarm will help relieve some of the stress of a high patient-to-caregiver ratio by alerting healthcare workers to any problems.

researcher working on ventilator kit

“This approach can be used to help many other hospitals in New Mexico and throughout the country,” Ryan said. “We are working to transfer the technology to industry to make the systems more broadly available.”

Ryan said many Sandia researchers and engineers have offered to work on the project. His team is grateful for their scientific and engineering expertise, and to be able to contribute in a meaningful way to help the public during the pandemic.

“Thanks to the team’s hard work, Sandia is able to provide significant relief and help keep our medical workers safe,” Ryan said.

This project is one of about 50 that Sandia is currently working on to help fight COVID-19. Research and development for the kits was funded through Sandia’s Laboratory Directed Research & Development program. The state of New Mexico purchased the completed pathogen management kits.