Medela Engineering Challenge: Can our breast pump become a ventilator?

Medela Engineering Challenge
Medela Engineering Challenge Image

With the current COVID-19 healthcare crisis across the globe, there is huge demand for mechanical ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients who have severely impaired lung function. In this context, we have been approached and, in parallel, had already started investigating ourselves the possibility of converting our breast pump into a ventilator.

Basically, the technical challenge was to turn suction into ventilation generating enough airflow to support full respiratory function and supply the lungs with sufficient oxygen. From a technology perspective, the answer is yes: a vacuum pump can be turned into a compressor. However, we came to the conclusion that breast pumps are not suitable to substitute mechanical ventilators for critical COVID-19 patients in the ICU. In order to provide sufficient airflow, you would need the equivalent of approx. 20 breast pumps. Furthermore, a sophisticated set of alarms and controls are critical to avoid harming the patient.

The airflow produced by a modified breast pump could potentially be suitable for low-flow respiratory assistance devices. We applaud the ongoing efforts to realise this, as any other creative ideas, and our engineers have already reached out to many of the groups who are working on this project to offer our expertise and to see if, together, we could come up with a solution.

But see for yourselves and join our engineering journey.

How does Medela support the COVID-19 fight?

Our mobile surgical and airway suction pumps with disposable virus filter and fluid collection systems are currently in critical demand for endotracheal suction of intubated COVID-19 patients on a ventilator. Therefore, we are focusing all our efforts on tripling our production capacity to support COVID-19 patients in the ICUs.