At a time when there is a spurt in the number of Covid-19 cases in India, most hospitals are also running short of ventilators which are absolutely necessary to help the infected continue breathing. According to several estimates, the country has only around 50,000 ventilators for a population of around 1.3 billion people.
A Bengaluru-based deep-tech start-up, Ethereal Machines, is addressing the problem to some extent by enabling the existing ventilators to cater to the different requirements of multiple patients, depending upon their criticality. The Blume Ventures-backed firm, which specialises in technologies associated with computerised numerical control (CNC) machining and 3D printing, has come up with an innovation to augment the capacities of existing ventilators, in dire circumstances. Simple 3D printed splitters that divide the supply of oxygen into two halves have been tried out successfully in Europe.
“India is seeing a massive shortage of ventilators and manufacturing them is going to take time,” says Kaushik Mudda, co-founder and CEO of Ethereal Machines. “We need to rapidly expand ventilator capacity and ensure that in the worst of circumstances, they can be used on more than one patient, differentially.”
Till Monday night, some 745,308 people worldwide had been infected by Covid-19, and around 35,305 had died, according to data by Johns Hopkins University. About 156,841 people had recovered. In India, 1,071 people had been infected by Covid-19, of which 29 had succumbed.
Ethereal has come up with ‘differential ventilation’ which is required in cases where the split ratio between two patients from a splitter has to be different. For example, the 30-70 split ratio is used in cases where one patient is healthy and another's condition is deteriorating. “This got us thinking as to how a ventilator can be utilised in such a circumstance. We have been working on this with a team of doctors headed by Sonal Asthana from Aster Hospitals, Bengaluru,” says Mudda, an alumnus of RV College of Engineering. Mudda co-founded Ethereal along with his batchmate Navin Jain in 2014.
The start-up is looking at sending these ‘differential splitters’ across the world to frontline medical staff so that they can utilise it in the event that there's a surge of patients that require ventilators. “We need to save as many lives as possible and do every bit in that direction,” says Mudda. “We have directed a significant amount of our resources and will continue to do so in order to help build our nation's strengths in the fight against Covid-19.”
Another start-up, Aerobiosys, which has been incubated at IIT Hyderabad, is building solutions to address problems of conventional ventilators for patients in critical and acute care, and also for patients in emergency who require preferential ventilation. There is a significant chance of a patient in a ventilator to develop alveolar damage and oxygen toxicity due to conventional modes of the ventilator. To solve this problem, the firm has come up with an idea to develop a smart, hybrid duo-vent for patients in the critical care unit with acute and chronic respiratory illness.
This device will be essential for low-resource settings and developing countries like India. It can provide preferential ventilation of appropriate quantity targeting both emergency and critically-ill patients, by ventilating both their lungs individually, with different pressure and oxygen concentration.