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The device is called VITAL (Ventilator Intervention Technology Accessible Locally) and was developed by engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, according to a press release.
The effort was meant to help supplement the national stockpile of ventilators, for use on patients suffering from the most severe symptoms of COVID-19.
"Fighting the virus and treating patients during this unprecedented global pandemic requires innovative approaches and action," said FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn. "It also takes an all-hands-on-deck approach, as demonstrated by the NASA engineers who used their expertise in spacecraft to design a ventilator tailored for very ill coronavirus patients. This example shows what we can do when everyone works together to fight COVID-19."
He added, "We believe today's action will increase availability of these life-saving medical devices."
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine called the authorization a "key milestone" in the fight against the coronavirus and cited the project as a prime example of taxpayer dollars being put to work.
“This ventilator is one of 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," he said.
The Office of Technology Transfer and Corporate Partnerships at Caltech, which manages the Jet Propulsion Lab for NASA, is offering a free license for VITAL and is currently reaching out to the commercial medical industry in an effort to find manufacturers for the device.
"Now that we have a design, we're working to pass the baton to the medical community, and ultimately patients, as quickly as possible," said Fred Farina, chief innovation and corporate partnerships officer at Caltech. "To that end, we are offering the designs for licensing on a royalty-free basis during the time of the pandemic."
Due to its flexible design, VITAL can be modified for use in field hospitals that are being set up in convention centers, hotels and other high-capacity facilities, according to NASA.
The device is intended to be used for three or four months and would not replace current hospital ventilators, which can last for years and are built to address a larger spectrum of medical problems.