Pigs help approval of new emergency ventilators to combat COVID-19

Photo courtesy of University of Illinois College of ACES

A 3-D printed prototype of an emergency ventilator for humans has been successfully tested on pigs, paving the way to combat COVID-19.

University of Illinois Animal Science professor Matt Wheeler tells Brownfield they have been working nonstop since the U of I Grainger College of Engineering contacted him about the potentially life-saving Illinois RapidVent prototype in early March.

“The pig is a great model because a 200-250-pound pig has the same size heart and lungs and trachea as a 150 pound human, so the physiology is really similar.”

He says thanks to the resources at their Imported Swine Research Lab they had the final testing completed within 19 days. Wheeler says his foundation in agriculture drove his desire to be a part of a life-saving project.

“When you sign up to be in agriculture you sign up to feed people, to help people and to do what agrarians and agriculturalists have done for millennia which is take care of each other. If one person survives because of this device, then we have done our job.”

The device is designed for short-term, emergency respiratory support in hospitals when regular ventilators are not available. First responders can also hook the device to an oxygen tank to breathe for rural patients during long treks to the nearest hospital.

More than 50 companies have licensed the RapidVent design and are exploring manufacturing options. Wheeler says his team and pigs are prepared to test a commercial product when the time comes.

Interview with Matt Wheeler

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