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UNC Department of Radiology cheers on Associate Professor of Radiology and University research leader Yueh Z. Lee, MD, PhD, for innovating supply chain solutions to meet COVID-19 crisis needs.  Lee leads a multi-collaborator team racing to design and prototype an open-source ventilator —  the Carolina Respiratory Emergency – Ventilator (CaRE-Vent) — that may fill a critical equipment gap projected when COVID-19 cases spike in North Carolina. If successful, the team can advance the CaRE-Vent prototype toward manufacture that is quick and inexpensive (< $1,000), requiring only six hours of skilled labor per unit. The UNC/NC State University biomedical engineering team is joined by other UNC and NCSU entities —  UNC School of Medicine, UNC Health, NCSU Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering — and industry partners — Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions (Research Triangle Park, NC); Computer Numerically Controlled routers manufacturer ShopBot Tools (Durham, NC).

Prior to the COVID-19 era, Lee first used the resuscitation bag and windshield-wiper motor mechanism embedded in the CaRE-Vent design in his imaging research. Over a decade ago, now-retired UNC thoracic surgery professor Richard Feins, MD, developed the mechanism to reanimate pig hearts and lungs for more realistic surgery instruction at UNC School of Medicine’s Cardiothoracic Simulation Lab.

“We’ve had this unit for quite awhile sitting in the lab,” said Lee, who cites Nabil Khan, a prototype and design engineer with FastTraCS of the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute, as his project co-lead. “We knew we already had a prototype that could ventilate a lung and said, ‘Why don’t we start from there?’ We were inspired by that as a starting point.”

UNC-Chapel Hill and NCSU CaRE-Vent collaborators have combined their respective strengths to fast-track the project. University faculty/staff with advanced knowledge in 3D printing, laser cutting, CNC work and rapid prototyping capabilities have eagerly joined UNC School of Medicine clinical and research experts working on the ventilator. NCSU is working through the mechanical design, fatigue testing, and creation and testing of a positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) valve for the ventilator.

“UNC is unique because we have very few silos,” Lee said. “We have a very collaborative culture. …. “We want to have something that we can release as open source so others can manufacture it to their own local standards – and we want to release that as soon as possible.”

* Adapted from an Innovate Carolina article published May 11th, 2020.