A breathing aid that can help keep coronavirus patients out of intensive care has been developed by mechanical engineers, medics and the Mercedes Formula One team.

The device, known as continuous positive airway pressure, has been used extensively in hospitals in Italy and China to help coronavirus patients and bridges the gap between an oxygen mask and the need for full ventilation, which requires sedation and an invasive procedure.

A team from University College London and University College London Hospital have worked with Mercedes Formula One to adapt and improve existing CPAP in a process known as reverse engineering.

Credit: James Tye/UCL/PA Wire

The device has now been recommended for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which approves medical devices in the UK, UCL said.

The adapted device was developed in under 100 hours from an initial meeting to production of the first CPAP.

Some 100 devices are now being delivered to UCLH for clinical trials, followed by the potential for rapid roll-out to hospitals around the UK.

Credit: James Tye/UCL/PA Wire

Reports from Italy suggest around half of patients given CPAP have avoided the need for invasive mechanical ventilation.

These devices will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill.

Professor Mervyn Singer, UCLH critical care consultant
Credit: James Tye/UCL/PA Wire

This breakthrough has the potential to save many lives and allow our frontline NHS staff to keep patients off ventilators. It is, quite simply, a wonderful achievement to have gone from first meeting to regulator approval in just 10 days. It shows what can be done when universities, industry and hospitals join forces for the national good.

Professor David Lomas, vice-provost for health at UCL,

CPAP machines are routinely used by the NHS to support patients in hospital or at home with breathing difficulties, but are said to be in short supply currently.>They work by pushing a mix of oxygen and air into the mouth and nose at a continuous rate, helping to increase the amount of oxygen entering the lungs.

It's been a privilege to work closely with our clinical colleagues and with doctors leading the Covid-19 response in China and Italy.

Professor Rebecca Shipley, director of the UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering

Given the urgent need, we are thankful that we were able to reduce a process that could take years down to a matter of days.

Professor Tim Baker, UCL's department of mechanical engineering