An engineering team, headed by faculty members and researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), has successfully completed the prototyping of an intensive care unit (ICU) grade ventilator which is now in the process of being commercialised. Code-named ‘Project Praana’, the product is a technology development effort at IISc, started in late March, to address the shortage of medical ventilators in the fight against Covid-19.
“We are at an advanced stage of discussions with a well-established industrial house in India that is very interested in co-developing a medical ventilator product jointly with us using our core technology,” said Duvvuri Subrahmanyam, assistant professor of Aerospace Engineering at IISc and one of the founders of 'Project Praana.' “We’ve already received expressions of interest from multiple parties that are interested in manufacturing, and that is very encouraging,” he said.
The goal is to license the final product in a “build-to-print” form with all certifications to interested third-party manufacturers.
The other founders of ‘Project Praana’ include IISc faculty members Gaurab Banerjee, T V Prabhakar and Pratikash Panda, Bengaluru-based engineer Manas Pradhan, and retired IISc professor HS Jamadagni. Many volunteers at IISc and outside, helped at various stages of the project.
The team took just about 35 days to go from the drawing board to a proof-of-concept system, and then a working prototype in another two weeks. The prototype consists of a custom-designed pneumatic system controlled by a microprocessor and uses proprietary algorithms and techniques to blend air and oxygen in the desired ratio. It also offers fine-grained control of patient-side respiratory parameters such as respiration rate, inspiration to expiration ratio, FiO2 (concentration of oxygen that a person inhales), and PEEP (positive end-expiratory pressure).
It supports both invasive and non-invasive ventilation.
The IISc team has developed the ventilator at a time when there is a big need for these devices. India recently surpassed the UK in terms of Covid-19 cases to become the fourth worst-hit country in the world. “With the Covid-19 situation continuing to escalate with uncertain timelines, our focus now is to get a product deployed on the ground as soon as we can,” said Subrahmanyam.
In the worst-case scenario, Subrahmanyam estimates that for a population of 1.25 billion, about 75,000 patients will require critical care with access to invasive ventilation. The requirement for non-invasive ventilation, which can be administered in a hospital ward, or even at home, is probably going to be much higher.
Unlike many low-cost ventilator designs that have mushroomed in the last few months, IISc’s technology is not a “stop-gap” arrangement for deaking with Covid-19. The team envisions that the product would have a long-term impact, particularly outside the urban areas in India where at present there is hardly any access to ventilators.
The ventilator uses only components made in India or those, which are easily available in the domestic supply chains at low cost. There is a further opportunity for innovation in terms of developing and incorporating advanced artificial intelligence algorithms and making it an Internet of Things device — all of which can be done indigenously.
Experts said building such indigenous products would reduce India's dependence on countries like China for items such as personal protective equipment, ventilators, N95 masks and other medical kits.
“I believe such innovations can also happen for items like PPE, N95 masks, and other medical devices as well,” said Subrahmanyam. “Covid-19 has been a rude wake-up call for India from foreign dependence for meeting domestic healthcare requirements,” he added.
‘Project Praana’ has received internal support from IISc and external funding from the office of the Principal Scientific Adviser, Government of India. Multispeciality hospital chain Narayana Health, Bengaluru, has also provided medical testing equipment for verification of the ventilator performance.