UCL has teamed up with Mercedes Formula 1 team to develop life-saving breathing aids

The new breathing device is designed to keep people out of the ICU and has been approved by the NHS

UCL staff have teamed up with Mercedes-AMG HPP (Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains), the Mercedes team that work on Formula 1 engineering, to develop more Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices.

CPAP machines are routinely used by the NHS to support patients in hospital or at home with breathing difficulties. They are less invasive than ventilators which deliver breaths directly to the lungs, but in order for the device to work the patient must undergo heavy sedation as the connection tube is inserted into the patients trachea.

Meanwhile, CPAP machines work by pushing an air-oxygen mix into the mouth and nose at a continuous rate, keeping airways open and increasing the amount of oxygen entering the lungs, a far less invasive procedure. This allows patients to return to their homes if needed rather than overcrowding, already full ICU wards.

Since Wednesday 18th March, engineers at UCL and Mercedes-AMG-HPP as well as clinicians from UCLH (University College London Hospital) have been working to reverse engineer a device that can rapidly produce thousands of these devices. This has all been going on at UCL’s engineering hub ‘MechSpace’ on campus.

100 devices are now being taken to UCLH to undergo clinical trials, with plans to roll out the devices in hospitals around the country as quickly as possible.

UCL gave the statement: “The collaboration, supported by the National Institute for Health Research UCLH Biomedical Research Centre, demonstrates the way that universities, the NHS and industry are coming together to help the national response to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, by providing vital technologies to the NHS which can enable them to care for patients who require respiratory support.”

The Engineer involved in the project Professor Tim Baker (UCL Mechanical Engineering) said: “Given the urgent need, we are thankful that we were able to reduce a process that could take years down to a matter of days.

“From being given the brief, we worked all hours of the day, disassembling and analysing an off-patent device. Using computer simulations, we improved the device further to create a state-of-the-art version suited to mass production.

“We were privileged to be able to call on the capability of Formula One – a collaboration made possible by the close links between UCL Mechanical Engineering and HPP.”

UCLH critical care consultant Professor Mervyn Singer, UCL Medicine, said: “These devices will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill.”

Cover image credits: James Tye UCL