A low-cost, easy-to-build non-invasive ventilator aimed at supporting the breathing of patients with respiratory failure performs similarly to conventional commercial devices, according to new research published in the European Respiratory Journal.

The research paper provides a free-to-replicate, open-source description for how to build the ventilator. The researchers say the prototype ventilator could support treatment of coronavirus and other severe respiratory diseases in low-income regions or where ventilator supplies are limited.

The study was led by Ramon Farré, Professor of Physiology in the Unit of Biophysics and Bioengineering at the School of Medicine of the University of Barcelona, Spain. He said: "In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the escalating need for respiratory support devices around the world, we designed a ventilator that can be built at a low cost using off-the-shelf components. The ventilator is intended to support hospitals and health systems that are struggling to meet the demand for ventilatory support due to coronavirus and other severe lung diseases."

The research team designed, built, and tested the non-invasive ventilator with a small high-pressure blower, two pressure transducers, and a controller with a digital display, which are available at a retail cost of less than $75 USD (equivalent to £60 GBP / €67 EUR).

To assess the effectiveness of the ventilator prototype compared with a commercial ventilator, the research team tested the device using 12 healthy volunteers. The participants' breathing was partially hindered by having them wear bands around the chest, mimicking obstruction at the upper airways to simulate different levels of chest tightness and breathing difficulty caused by disease.

The participants wore face masks fitted over the nose to facilitate breathing and were asked to score the level of comfort or discomfort they experienced both with and without ventilatory support.

The researchers observed no faulty triggering of changes to the levels of air pushed from the ventilator during use, and the team says it effectively supported spontaneous breathing rhythm, suggesting that the prototype assists natural breathing well. Further, they found that the feeling of breathing relief provided by the prototype was virtually the same as what was reported using the commercial ventilator.