Sanjay Sethi, MD.

Sanjay Sethi, MD, is helping develop technology that safely automates manual resuscitators for COVID-19 patients who are struggling to breathe. 

Researchers Testing Alternative to Ventilators

Published May 28, 2020

story based on news release by cory nealon

Initially spurred by fears of a shortage of mechanical ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients, researchers have been developing a low-cost way of mechanizing resuscitators that are commonly found in ambulances and emergency rooms.


Usually, health care workers manually squeeze these hand-held resuscitators, also known as bag valve masks, to pump air into the lungs of patients struggling to breathe.

Now the researchers — including Chi Zhou, PhD; Ruogang Zhao, PhDSanjay Sethi, MD; Julia B. Faller, DO; and Albert H. Titus, PhD — are developing technology that automates the squeezing of the resuscitator.

When Bag Valve Masks Are Only Choice

In a situation where a hospital has used all of its ventilators, leaving bag valve masks as the only choice, this technology could save lives. 

If successful, the system has the potential to turn an untold number of resuscitators into devices that, like mechanical ventilators, help patients breathe without the assistance of another person.

The team may seek emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for human use in the United States.

Using Simple Electronics; Testing Rigorously

The system is comprised of low-cost, off-the-shelf components, including simple electronics and an actuating device that squeezes the resuscitator.

The team is testing the system to ensure it is compatible with standard clinical practices. 

They are working closely with the Behling Human Simulation Center, where medical students and other health sciences students typically practice medical procedures. The researchers are testing the manual-resuscitator-based ventilators on simulation mannequins. They are fine tuning their work based on testing results and health care professionals’ suggestions.

Once testing is complete, the researchers will make the plans available online so developing countries can make use of the system.

Inspired by Open Source Projects

The researchers were inspired, in part, by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Emergency Ventilator (E-Vent) project, which also focuses on automating manual resuscitators as a potential means for longer-term ventilation.

In an open-source fashion, the MIT researchers have been releasing information on minimum safe ventilator functionality based on clinical guidance, hardware design for meeting minimum clinical requirements, control strategies and electronics designs and supporting insights, and results from testing in animal models.

However, the UB team’s design differs from other designs in its additive manufacturing technology, which is specifically developed for fast prototyping. The researchers are strategically incorporating this technology to achieve the best performance of structure reliability and motion control accuracy.

The motion controller is based on open source projects that have benefited from a large development community. With some modifications to these projects, the researchers aim to deliver high quality, high performance control firmware on affordable hardware.

Team Includes Doctoral Student

Tianjiao Wang, a doctoral student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is also one of the members of the research team.

Zhou is an associate professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Zhao is an associate professor of biomedical engineering. They are the primary drivers behind the project.

Sethi is a professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine

Faller is the clinical director of the Behling Simulation Center and an assistant professor of anesthesiology.

Titus is professor and chair of biomedical engineering.