Moffitt and USF Students Create a Solution to Ventilator Shortages

By Steve Blanchard - November 03, 2021

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, ventilators were in high demand. Many hospitals did not have enough devices to care for the number of patients being admitted. Moffitt Cancer Center physicians and researchers, hoping to help create a solution to the shortages, enlisted the help of three University of South Florida (USF) students to engineer a device that could regulate ventilators to serve more than one patient at a time. The result was Eucovent, which is still in the trial stages.

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"ICUs were all overwhelmed in the early days of COVID and doctors had to make decisions on who to vent and who not to vent."

- Dr. Heiko Enderling, mathematical biologist and researcher

“ICUs were all overwhelmed in the early days of COVID and doctors had to make decisions on who to vent and who not to vent,” said Dr. Heiko Enderling, a researcher in Moffitt’s Integrated Mathematical Oncology Department. “A couple of places tried putting two patients on one ventilator, but that wasn’t safe.”

That’s because each patient is different and needs different air pressure when taking a breath, explained Dr. Aaron Muncey, an anesthesiologist at Moffitt. The Eucovent is a device that connects to a ventilator and can regulate two specific airflows for two different patients.

“People have different size lungs,” said Muncey. “Given pressure, the lung will stretch and that’s a different stretch depending on the patient. If you have different patients with different lung sizes, you can damage the lungs of one patient while treating the other. This device regulates that.”

Tests with the device have proved exciting, Muncey said, and it could potentially be used for more than two patients per ventilator if necessary. But that’s still well into the future.

So far, the Eucovent has been used only on test lungs.

“When can it be used on patients?” Muncey asked. “We’re asking ourselves that same question. The path forward includes more testing on more advanced test lungs and then follow the proper pathways to obtain the FDA approval to have something out there that’s safe.”

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"The path forward includes more testing on more advanced test lungs and then follow the proper pathways to obtain the FDA approval to have something out there that’s safe."

- Dr. Aaron Muncey, Moffitt aneshtesiologist

The goal is to get FDA approval of the device and maybe find a way to make the dual ventilator system part of the actual ventilator rather than an attachment. The Eucovent is already getting quite a bit of attention.

The device team entered the Jabil Innovation Technology Challenge, which is a statewide competition open to Florida undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students. The team won the $10,000 first prize. Shortly after, the team also took home the $20,000 first prize at the Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, and won the $5,000 first place award at the Florida Venture Forum.

“These USF students were up against impressive teams from universities like Stanford and Columbia,” Enderling said. “Our students have an incredible skillset. We doctors can ‘MacGyver’ something, but these students see design solutions, manufacturing and programming. It’s the time of expertise and time we just don’t have.”

While COVID was the impetus of the Eucovent, it’s important to realize that the system can help patients with different diseases, including cancer.

“Cancer patients are at high risk of needing ventilation and are subject to infection,” Enderling said. “There is a risk of complications for lung cancer patients and age is also a risk factor. Our catchment area has an older population so having that and cancer patients makes ventilators a priority.”

But it’s not just lung cancer patients who may need a ventilator. Muncey said ventilation depends on treatment regimens.

“Some treatments for certain cancers have a high impact on the immune system and function,” Muncey said. “So even if it’s not lung cancer, a patient can be immunocompromised and at a higher risk of infection.”

USF student Abby Blocker holds the Eucovent prototype in front of Moffitt researchers Dr. Stefano Pasetto, Dr. Heiko Enderling and Dr. Aaron Muncey.
USF student Abby Blocker shows off the Eucovent prototype. She collaborated with Moffitt experts Dr. Stefano Pasetto, left, Dr. Heiko Enderling and Dr. Aaron Muncey to create the device, which has won first place at several competitions.

Abby Blocker, one of the students who worked on the Eucovent project, said this project in particular caught her attention when she was choosing her Capstone project for the year. She and her teammates began working on solutions the minute the project was presented to them.

“Dr. Enderling did the presentation and it just stuck with us,” she said. “We looked at everything, from design, to the market, to stakeholders and creating ideas. We went about it in a formatted way, and we worked on this project for the class with the goal of creating a working device.”

And that’s exactly what they did.

The Eucovent is one of the first projects of its kind between Moffitt and USF, but it certainly will not be the last, according to Enderling.

“This was all coordinated with the Research Education and Training office at Moffitt and the Capstone leadership at USF,” Enderling said. “This is an opportunity that is an example of partnering and licensing with Moffitt that truly works. This takes an investment for FDA approval and a ton of expertise. I’m glad we have such an amazing opportunity to partner with folks.”

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