F1 team creates coronavirus breathing aid that can take patients out of intensive care

Mercedes will build up to 1,000 Continuous Positive Airway Pressure devices a day at their High Performance Powertrains base that normally produces F1 power units after developing the system with the University College London engineers and clinicians

Jack de Menezes
Monday 30 March 2020 08:22
Coronavirus: How has sport been affected?

The Mercedes AMG Formula One team have helped to develop a breathing machine that keeps coronavirus patients out of intensive care without the need for a ventilator.

The Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device has been developed in under a week alongside engineers at the University College London and clinicians at the University College London Hospital (UCLH), which could alleviate the need for so many ventilators across the country.

The medicines and healthcare products regulatory agency has already approved the breathing aid, which is already used in hospitals but is not readily available, and while 40 devices have already been delivered to UCLH and three more to other London hospitals, developers say that up to 1,000 CPAP machines can be built per day by Mercedes-AMG-HPP, the High Performance Powertrains department of the current F1 world champions.

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Rebecca Shipley, Director of UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering, said: “Normally medical device development would take years but we’ve done that in days because we went back to a simple existing device and ‘reverse engineered’ it in order to be able to produce them quickly and at scale.”

Reverse engineering involves taking an existing product and improving the design, with engineers looking at current off-patent CPAP machines and developing how they are built in order to adapt it for mass production.

CPAP machines are being used in the Italian region of Lombardy, one of the worst-hit areas in the world by the Covid-19 outbreak, with up to 50 per cent of patients being treated with them rather than intrusive ventilators.

UCLH critical care consultant Professor Mervyn Singer added: “These devices are a halfway house between a simple oxygen mask and invasive mechanical ventilation which requires patients to be sedated.

“They will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill.”

The device involves oxygen-mix air being forced into a patient’s mouth and nose at pressure, forcing the lungs to stay open even when the alveoli have collapsed due to Covid-19. It requires a sealed mask to be worn in order to prevent oxygen leaking out, though caution must be shown to ensure that droplets passing on coronavirus are not passed on to medical staff working in close attendance.

As a result, a hood can be required to wear to prevent the spread of infectious droplets.

“The use of CPAP machines in patients with contagious respiratory infections is somewhat controversial as any small leaks round the mask could spray droplets of secretions on to attending clinical staff,” Duncan Young, Prof of Intensive Care Medicine, University of Oxford added.

The seven UK-based Formula One teams have already agreed to band together and build ventilators for use across the country, and Mercedes have gone one step further in helping to build the CPAP machines that will be put together at the team’s High Performance Powertrains factory in Brixworth, where they normally develop the power units used by Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in F1.

Andy Cowell, Managing Director of Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains, said: “The Formula One community has shown an impressive response to the call for support …we have been proud to put our resources at the service of UCL to deliver the CPAP project to the highest standards and in the fastest possible timeframe.”

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