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Amid a global ventilator shortage, USF students create a solution

Mark Parker

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USF students Abby Blocker (left), Jacob Yarinsky, and Carolyna Yamamoto Alves Pinto at their commencement ceremony. Photos courtesy of usf.edu.

With the Covid-19 pandemic causing ventilator shortages around the globe, three biomedical engineering graduates from the University of South Florida are receiving national recognition for their efforts to mitigate the scarcity of these lifesaving machines.

Carolyna Yamamoto Alves Pinto, Abby Blocker and Jacob Yarinsky developed the Eucovent for their senior capstone project. The trio of USF students began working on the device in August 2020 after researchers from the Moffitt Cancer Center submitted the idea to their biomedical engineering class. The researchers were looking for novel solutions to problems with co-ventilation, and Eucovent allows two patients to be ventilated by a single machine.

While other devices can split airflow to multiple patients, the patent-pending Eucovent is unique for its customization features. Customization is crucial as patients require different volumes of airflow depending on their lung capacity and body weight, among many other factors. The Eucovent allows multiple patients with different body types and lung conditions to share the same ventilator, helping to alleviate the critical shortage by doubling the capacity of each machine.

“Basically, the idea was cancer patients get Covid and then have a lot of complications,” said Blocker. “Most of them are going to need invasive ventilation, and they were running out of ventilators at Moffitt. So, they wanted something that would help ease the need for ventilators or address that issue.”

The Eucovent.

Yarinsky said that while the initial focus was on how to multiply ventilators to address shortages caused by Covid, the students realized early into the project the value the device would have in areas with low resources and other situations where multiple ventilators are not accessible. Yarinsky added that while the Eucovent may be too new and unproven to impact the current pandemic, it will be there in case of another pandemic and for utilization in developing countries and military settings.

“These different application areas still give this device relevant areas of application, even though the pandemic might not always be the case,” said Yarinsky. “People who are paramedics or in military settings where they are only allowed to have one ventilator in their possession, they can have this small device right next to it and turn it into two.”

Local and national innovation competitions also recognized the value of the device.

The group received high praise when presenting the project to their mentors, who encouraged them to enter into competitions and get the word out on the usefulness of the device. They first entered the Jabil Innovation Technology Challenge, a statewide competition open to undergraduate through doctoral students, and took home first place and $10,000.

That win motivated the trio to enter the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering’s annual Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams Challenge (DEBUT), which is supported by the National Institutes of Health. This prestigious competition is open to teams from across the nation, and groups from universities such as Stanford and Columbia are among the previous winners.

The USF team and their Eucovent would go on to win that event as well, along with the $20,000 first prize.

Yarinsky said the first competition “was a little different,” and the emphasis was on customizing their proposal and perfecting their speeches and video presentation. For the DEBUT challenge, he said they were “banking on the ingenuity and awesomeness of the device” and showing how well it met the criteria for the competition. The DEBUT challenge focused on global health care, and he said while there were ventilator shortages in New York at the time, there was also a critical need in low-resource settings in Italy.

“In these rural areas, that’s where we felt that our device would make the biggest impact,” said Yarinsky. “And it really matched with the challenge’s requirements.”

Another benefit of Eucovent is the cost. Blocker said the group “didn’t spend over $200 to make it, basically through the whole project.” She added that they made it out of “basic parts and stuff you can get on Amazon.” While a new ventilator can cost upwards of $15,000, the Eucovent effectively doubles the capacity without the need to purchase additional machines.

“You know, it’s pretty simple,” said Blocker. “We used the 3-D printing machine … but the idea was the hardest part, and putting it in motion was too.”

Now that the three students have graduated, Blocker said the Eucovent will stay at Moffitt and is now in the hands of another capstone group. The new group will continue to improve the design while it awaits patent approval and eventually FDA authorization.

“I think it shows Moffitt that students have a lot of viable ideas with these capstone projects, and teaming up could be really helpful,” said Blocker.

Yarinsky emphasizes that “people made this possible.” He credits the group’s mentors from Moffitt – researchers Aaron Muncey, Heiko Enderling, and Stefano Pasetto, along with USF Professor Christopher Passaglia – for the project’s success. “Their mentorship was invaluable,” said Yarinsky.

He also credits his teammates for each bringing something unique to the table to create something that can save lives.

“Everyone is smart in their own rights, and everyone on this project has expertise in so many different things,” said Yarinsky. “When smart people with different backgrounds come together, good stuff tends to happen.”

 

 

 

 

 

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