FDA approves new NASA ventilator for COVID-19 treatment

The FDA has approved this VITAL ventilator for coronavirus disease patients designed and built by engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A new ventilator developed by NASA to treat victims of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has received emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the space agency said today (April 30).

The NASA ventilator, a high-pressure device called VITAL, was developed by engineers at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California in response to the limited supply of traditional ventilators for COVID-19 patients suffering from respiratory distress.

“This FDA authorization is a key milestone in a process that exemplifies the best of what government can do in a time of crisis,” NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “This ventilator is one of the countless examples of how taxpayer investments in space exploration — the skills, expertise, and knowledge collected over decades of pushing boundaries and achieving firsts for humanity — translate into advancements that improve life on Earth.”

FDA officials approved the VITAL ventilator (the name is short for Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally) under the administration’s Emergency Use Authorization of March 24. JPL engineers developed the new ventilator in 37 days and tested it on April 21 at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

The ventilator was one of several coronavirus-fighting devices and technologies NASA showed President Donald Trump last week.

“VITAL poses several benefits in the national response to COVID-19,” NASA officials said in the statement. “It can be built faster and maintained more easily than a traditional ventilator, and is composed of far fewer parts, many of which are currently available to potential manufacturers through existing supply chains.”

The device can also be modified for use in field hospitals, like those in some convention centers and hotels across the country, NASA officials added. The VITAL ventilator is designed to last up to four months and is not a replacement for dedicated hospital ventilators, which can last years.

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which manages JPL for NASA, is offering a free license for the VITAL ventilator to commercial medical manufacturers.

“Now that we have a design, we’re working to pass the baton to the medical community, and ultimately patients, as quickly as possible,” Fred Farina, chief innovation and corporate partnerships officer at Caltech, said in the statement. “To that end, we are offering the designs for licensing on a royalty-free basis during the time of the pandemic.”

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