JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Medical ventilators, machines that help patients suffering from respiratory illness breathe, are a crucial tool for saving those with severe cases of COVID-19.
The lifesaving machines can cost hospitals between $25,000 and $50,000 a piece, but a team is working to develop a new machine that could help coronavirus patients for a tenth of the price.
Varun Yarabarla, who grew up and lives in Johns Creek, works for VentLife, a nonprofit created to research, develop and fundraise for a ventilator that could cost $3,000 to $5,000.
“Not just in the United State but on a global scale, there is still a shortage [of ventilators],” Yarabala said. “According to the data that is out there, there will be a shortage for years to come, whether there’s another wave or not.”
The VentLife team is made up of about a dozen engineers, doctors and other experts from across the country. Yarbarla is a Georgia Tech graduate, former Fullbright Research Scholar and third year medical student at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Georgia.
Today’s ventilators were designed to cover 99 percent of respiratory ailments, making them complicated to engineer and manufacture, Yarbala said, but VentLife’s model was specifically designed to help patients with the kind of lung inflammation caused by COVID-19.
“We’re trying to make it so our model can still treat, rather than 99 percent, somewhere around 70 or 80 percent of respiratory problems,” Yarbala said. “That is still good enough for basically everybody with COVID and basically everybody with other common respiratory diseases.”
While most ventilators involve complicated components that are difficult to source, the VentLife team has built a working model entirely from easily sourced materials that can be mass produced quickly.
VentLife is also working to include thoughtful features, such as remote monitoring, so healthcare workers don’t need to waste protective equipment just to check on a ventilator. Another feature is the device’s ability to capture exhalation, in order to not aerosolize the virus.
So far, the VentLife team has developed a proof of concept and a prototype. Their next goal is to develop a few medical-grade prototypes so they can go further with research. They are also continuing to seek additional funding and approval for clinical trials.
Yarbala said he is honored to work on a project that has the potential to save many lives.
“This allows me to put together my medical background, my entrepreneurship interest and my engineering skills to create something that potentially can make a very big difference,” he said. “Even if there is not another surge, it can help rural areas and places around the world that barely have access to healthcare.”
VentLife is a non-profit under the umbrella group the Giving Back Fund. For more information or to donate, visit ventlife.org.