The Mercedes-AMG Formula One team would normally be globetrotting right about now, with a handful of Grands Prix under its belt. Instead, F1 has delayed its season's start amid the coronavirus outbreak. While F1 teams take an unexpected break, Mercedes-AMG F1's powertrain division has keeping itself busy.
Since March 18, along with other UK-based F1 teams, it began looking at ways to improve upon a continuous positive airway pressure machine, better known as a CPAP, specifically for COVID-19 patients. On Monday, the team said it has a final design. Working with University College London, the F1 team said the new breathing aid should help patients stay off ventilators, which are in short supply, and keep them for the most severe cases.
The UK's National Health Service and its Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency both approved the new device, which underscores this little contraption shows a lot of promise.
A CPAP is quite different from a ventilator, which operates in a closed circuit and requires the insertion of a breathing tube into a patient's windpipe. It can then push air in and out of a patient's lungs, and doctors can fine-tune this assisted breathing. A CPAP provides a consistent flow of air at a constant pressure and operates via a mask, which doesn't create a totally air-tight seal between the patient and the device. This lack of a seal is a problem, as the virus can enter the surrounding air and infect health care workers.
In fact, in the US, many doctors tell first responders to not use CPAPs to help treat COVID-19 patients for fear of greater infection rates. CPAPs may have also played a part in spreading COVID-19 in a Washington state nursing home.
It appears this new design, however, operates in a more closed circuit with an extra device attached to the mask, and dedicated tubing for nostril inhalation. The university and the F1 team cited research from China and Italy that showed 50% of those infected with COVID-19 who used a CPAP did not need a ventilator. If patients can recover well on this relatively simple CPAP and leave ventilators for the more seriously ill, it could help save lives.
The university will begin trialing the new CPAP at one of its own hospitals. Mercedes-AMG F1 is ready to put the device into mass production at a moment's notice.