3D-Printed Valves: Life Savior in COVID-19 Outbreak

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Europe is the new epicentre for Coronavirus. The pandemic has claimed the lives of thousands of people around the world, and Italy is among the most-effected countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Italy has surpassed China’s death toll with, 4,032 deaths reported as of March 20.

Shortage of Medical Supplies/Equipment

The steep rise in the number of affected patients has given birth to another crisis, i.e., the shortage of medical supplies and equipment. Hospitals in the northern part of Italy have run out of space and equipment.

A hospital in Chiari, a city near the capital, ran out of valves for respiratory machines, which assist the patients to breathe. The hospital, with the help of local experts, is making 3D-printed valves. According to Metro, the hospital’s usual supplier could not make the respiratory valves in time for treating patients for Coronavirus.

3D-printed Respiratory Valves

Cristian Fracassi, CEO of engineering company Isinnova, and Alessandro Romaioli, who works at the same startup, offered their company’s 3D printer for creating a replica of the valves.   However, the original manufacturer of the valves declined the request for blueprints of the design.

The company Intersurgical has categorically denied threatening to sue anyone. They said they could not share the prints of the valve due to “medical manufacturing regulations.”

Despite the threat of patent infringement, the duo moved ahead and created unofficial copies of the patent valve with the help of Michele Faini, a local expert in 3D printing at Lonati SpA. Romaioli said the company did not give them the blueprints because it was “company’s property.”

The original respiratory valve costs about $11,000. But the Fracassi and Romaioli reverse engineer the designs are making the valves for about $1. The valves are an integral part of the respiratory system, which helps in mixing oxygen with air, thereby helping the patients breathe.

Lonati SpA has SLS 3D printers that can print with PA12; it is a material used for biomedical purposes and can be sanitized. Farcassi printed out a few valves in the hospital. Thanks to these 3D printed valves, the patients with Coronavirus can now breathe.  COVID-19 pandemic is spreading; it’s a multiplier. Other hospitals may also face a similar challenge.

As of March 14, the replica valves have worked on ten patients, says Massim Temporelli, the founder of FabLab, who helped Fracassi and Romaioli in the 3D printing of valves. Fracassi in a Facebook post said that the patients were in danger, so they acted.

He further clarified that they do not have any intention to use this situation for generating profit. They will use the product only for saving lives and not “beyond the strict need” to act.

The designers are not sharing the 3D blueprints of the valves for obvious reasons. The valves have an intricate design, and it is difficult to 3D print the small holes. Additionally, these valves are for medical purposes, so it important to manufacture these devices in a clean environment.

The manufacturers need to handle the valves only with gloves and sterilize them before using. Not everyone with a 3D printer can take these precautionary measures. Use of 3D printing is common in the medical field from affordable prosthetics to personalizing pills to printing surgical tools. The technology could be the key to saving lives and making ventilators for patients with COVID-19.

Image Credit: Isinnova’s 3D-printed valves. Cristian Fracassi via Facebook