SingHealth team develops ventilator to pre-empt shortage for severe Covid-19 cases

(From left) SingHealth Medical Technology Office Deputy Director Derrick Chan,  KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital Dr Judith Wong and SingHealth Medical Technology Office Assistant Director Cheong Wai Chye.
(From left) SingHealth Medical Technology Office Deputy Director Derrick Chan, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital Dr Judith Wong and SingHealth Medical Technology Office Assistant Director Cheong Wai Chye.PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - A locally designed, cost-effective ventilator whose production can be scaled up easily is close to fruition.

When available, it can be used for Covid-19 patients with milder symptoms so that conventional ventilators can be deployed for more severe cases.

The innovation will enable Singapore to avoid a shortage of ventilators, a situation which has occurred overseas and which led to doctors there having to choose which patients to treat.

A team of clinicians and engineers from SingHealth hospitals came up with the design for the ventilator, known as SG-Inspire, which is meant to provide breathing support for Covid-19 patients.

The ventilator can be operated remotely, an innovative feature that will enable healthcare staff to monitor their patients' conditions without having to enter their rooms as frequently, reducing the risks of viral transmission.

Costing between $7,000 and $9,000, the SG-Inspire is five times cheaper than a conventional ventilator. As it uses readily available components, the ventilator can be mass-produced quickly, within a month, complementing the conventional ventilators should the need arise.

The team began the project in March, when Covid-19 cases skyrocketed both locally and globally, and one aim it had was to devise a ventilator that can be mass-produced in the shortest lead time possible, to avoid the situation faced overseas where medical professionals were forced to choose which patients to treat.

For instance, hospitals in northern Italy had reserved their limited supply of ventilators for patients under 60, while some medical professionals in New York opted to pick patients at random.

The team from SingHealth has begun discussions with institutions in some Asean countries identified as possible markets over the sale of its ventilators.


The ventilator named SG Inspire, attached to a dummy. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Associate Professor Derrick Chan, director of the KK Research Centre at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) and deputy director of the SingHealth Medical Technology Office, said on Friday (July 24) that the ventilator has undergone rigorous testing in accordance with international standards and will be further tested among clinicians at SingHealth institutions, starting with those at KKH and the National Heart Centre.

Prof Chan, who is also the project lead for the innovation, said that more production prototypes - close to the final product - will be developed and the prototypes are expected to be completed between August and September.

Like conventional ventilators, SG-Inspire is able to facilitate respiratory support for patients using both invasive and non-invasive ventilation methods, through intubation or a mask interface, depending on their needs.

The ventilator is designed to be easily deployable as it uses ambient air to assist with breathing support, as opposed to high-pressure medical gas, which is typically required for conventional ventilators.

This would be potentially useful in situations where healthcare resources are limited, or high-pressure medical gas is in short supply.

Patients suffering from milder lung injury or those being weaned off breathing support can be placed on these ventilators, freeing up conventional ventilators to be deployed for more severe cases of Covid-19.

"Higher pressures and different settings that are available on conventional ventilators are not aimed to be replicated on SG-Inspire, as adding more settings and performance characteristics make the system complicated, slower to develop and therefore more expensive," explained Prof Chan.