Pigs push forward quick solution for emergency ventilators

ACES News: https://aces.illinois.edu/news/pigs-push-forward-quick-solution-emergency-ventilators

URBANA, Ill. – When Matt Wheeler got the call on a Sunday morning in March – just two days after Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued his first stay-at-home order – he wasn’t expecting to launch an experiment that could save countless lives.

On the call, leaders from the Illinois RapidVent team explained they had built a prototype of an emergency ventilator to address a nationwide shortage amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Laboratory testing looked promising, but the University of Illinois team wanted to understand whether the device worked in animals. Wheeler, who has built and tested lifesaving medical devices in animals, was the obvious choice to join the team.

Within a week, Wheeler wrote a protocol; obtained approval from the Illinois Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC); assembled his team, supplies, and animals; and had completed the first 24-hour tests of the ventilator. A few tweaks and a few days later, final testing was complete.

The RapidVent worked.

“If this device saves one person, we did our job. Hopefully it’ll save a whole lot more than that,” says Wheeler, professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at U of I and affiliate in the Department of Bioengineering, Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine.

Wheeler’s team tested the device in pigs, widely recognized as the non-primate mammals most physiologically similar to humans.

“Typically the size pig we use for this kind of work is somewhere in the 200- to 250-pound range. The lungs of those pigs are about the same size as a 150-pound human,” Wheeler says.

The team – in head-to-toe personal protective equipment – humanely sedated, intubated, and monitored the pigs as the RapidVent took over the job of breathing. The first test ran for three hours, just to make sure the setup worked. The next step was testing the device on multiple pigs for a full 24-hour period. Using data from these tests, the RapidVent team made a few critical adjustments to the prototype. A few days later, a final four-hour stint rounded out the testing.

The device is designed for short-term, emergency respiratory support in hospitals when regular ventilators are not available. First responders also can hook the device to an oxygen tank to breathe for rural patients during long treks to the nearest hospital.

The product’s need and impact show little sign of slowing down. More than 50 companies have now licensed the design for the Illinois RapidVent and are exploring manufacturing options. When the time comes, Wheeler’s team and his pigs stand ready to test a commercial product.

Wheeler points to the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences’ (ACES) Imported Swine Research Lab (ISRL) for the experiment’s rapid-turnaround success.

“We could do this so fast because we were already set up with animals and a state-of-the-art biomedical unit managed by the animal sciences department in the College of ACES. Had we not had that facility there, there’s no way we could have done it as quickly as we did,” he says.

Pigs from the ISRL have helped test devices that have saved infants and rebuilt facial bones of injured soldiers, outcomes Wheeler is proud of. But his primary gig is agriculture. Broadly, he and his team work to improve production characteristics in swine and cattle using advanced tools such as gene editing, embryo transfer, and stem cell therapies.

Wheeler’s foundation in agriculture led him to leap with both feet into a project that could save human lives.

“I signed up in ag more than 40 years ago to feed people, to take care of people, and help people who needed help,” Wheeler says. “And so this is just another example of stepping up where we could help; we were ready when the call came in. That’s what we do in agriculture, and what we do in the College of ACES.”


Wheeler Lab Leads Animal Testing of the Illinois RapidVent Ventilator

The Illinois RapidVent is a working prototype of an emergency ventilator for COVID-19 patients.  Website: https://rapidvent.grainger.illinois.edu/index.asp

Full Press Release: https://rapidvent.grainger.illinois.edu/pr

The United States is expecting a severe shortage of ventilators to help people suffering from the most serious cases of COVID-19. On March 16, 2020, a team of more than 40 engineers, doctors, medical professionals, designers, and manufacturing experts from industry launched an Apollo 13-style project to help address that need.

“Our team is living the Apollo 13 movie,” said William King, the overall project leader. “We have dropped everything else to work around the clock to help respond to the COVID-19 crisis.” King is a Professor of Mechanical Science and Engineering who holds appointments in The Grainger College of Engineering and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine.

“We have a team of brilliant and dedicated people that made something that actually works in less than one week. It’s very inspiring. We hope that we can engage even more people to work on the global response to COVID-19 as we continue to develop the prototype.”

“This Coronavirus can impact a patient’s lungs, and those who are sickest may need help breathing,” said Karen White, MD, PhD, an intensivist at Carle Foundation Hospital and a faculty member in the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. “Ventilators are necessary to help patients get more oxygen. That’s why we’re optimistic that by further developing the Illinois RapidVent we can develop more options for our sickest patients.”

Animal Studies: Animal tests were conducted in order to validate the RapidVent and to evaluate the potential for use in humans infected with COVID-19.The objective of the animal studies was to test and validate the use of a rapid prototyped emergency gas powered ventilator in pigs that is designed after an approved, commercially available ventilator for potential use in humans infected with COVID-19 virus. This animal study represented a critical testing step to build confidence in the design and ultimately support the effort to explore approval for this ventilator for human use. Since the end goal was for these ventilators to be used in human patients, pigs were of special interest because the size of their lungs is comparable to that of humans.

Animal Team Roster: https://rapidvent.grainger.illinois.edu/rosters

Wheeler Lab Team Collaborators:                                                                               Dr. Clifford Shipley, DVM, Dr. Marcello Rubessa, Dr. Derek J. Milner, Dr. Paula Marchioretto, DVM, Mr. Jonathan Mosley, Ms. Sarah Womack, Ms. Sierra Long, and Ms. Jacqueline Newman.

AACUP Collaborators:                                                                                                    Dr. Courtney Hayes and Dr. Nicole Herndon