A technology start-up in Italy has been praised for its experimental and quick-thinking approach after adapting a full-face snorkeling mask into a viable hospital ventilator.
Isinnova, founded and led by Cristian Fracassi, has expanded on recent efforts to solve a shortage of ventilator valves in some Italian hospitals with the use of 3D printing by adapting a product being sold by Decathlon into a working respiratory system for treatment of the novel coronavirus.
The start-up patented the valve link but released its designs so experts can replicate the work for free. Tests have so far proven successful, the team said in a blog post.
Italy has the most COVID-19 infections outside of China, with more than 69,000 confirmed cases. A lockdown is in place, but some hospitals are overwhelmed.
Isinnova said that it was contacted by former head physician of the Gardone Val Trompia hospital in the Brescia province, Dr. Renato Favero, who shared an idea to make emergency breathing aids using 3D-printed components after the team’s prior work with experts from the region’s Chiari Hospital.
The new approach would adapt a consumer device that was already on the market. In this instance: the company used the Easybreath mask.
“The company was immediately willing to cooperate by providing the… drawing of the mask we had identified. The product was dismantled, studied, and the changes to be made were evaluated. A new component was then designed to guarantee the connection to the ventilator. We called the link Charlotte valve, and we quickly printed it using 3D printing,” the Isinnova team explained.
A fully-working prototype was tested in the Chiari Hospital and proven to be effective, although the business has stressed online that the design remains an “uncertified biomedical device.”
Isinnova said that it has patented the new valve link component.
Despite potentially saving lives, earlier 3D-printed valves were based on existing designs and resulted in legal threats, Italian newspaper La Stampa reported.
To that point, the Isinnova blog continued: “We decided to urgently patent the link valve (Charlotte Valve), to prevent any speculation on the price of the component. We clarify that the patent will remain free to use, because it is in our intention that all hospitals in need could use it if necessary.”
The Italian start-up shared the hand-written valve designs and printing guides online. Decathlon told newspaper La Voix du Nord a hospital in Paris is also testing the adapted Easybreath mask.
Decathlon has been contacted for comment on further mask production by Newsweek. The Isinnova team has said its project is “totally non-profit” and it does not receive money from mask sales.
It remains unclear how many people the masks have been used on and which hospitals in Italy are currently using the production designs. Isinnova has been contacted for comment.
Isinnova founder Fracassi’s work was praised has been praised on social media. He wrote: “Having printed those valves made us realize that we couldn’t stop, that help was needed.
“We would like to wait for the results of all the tests (so far positive) but we think that every minute is crucial,” he added. “Doctors, nurses, hospitals, spread it, study it and help us to improve it: we will keep you updated on how to implement this new idea (always free, but this time patented by us).”