Costa Rica tests ventilator on pigs for possible use on COVID-19 patients

San José, May 6 (efe-epa).- Costa Rican scientists on Wednesday tested a prototype of a portable mechanical ventilation machine on a pig, which so far has yielded positive results and could be used on COVID-19 patients pending approvals.

The pandemic has forced countries to search for a variety of medical devices to treat patients affected by the virus. Faced with the fight for supply and demand, Costa Rica is working to create its own mechanical ventilators.

“From all the battle worldwide for this type of device, for Costa Rica it is really satisfactory to know that the country has the human and technical capacity to build this type of equipment and guarantee health security in that sense,” said physicist Ralph García, one of the lead scientists of this initiative. “Up until now, all the results both from simulators and in live animals have been positive and satisfactory.”

The project, called “Respira UCR,” is led by a team of specialists from the University of Costa Rica, and experts from the Costa Rican Social Security Fund, in addition to the support of veterinary doctors from Intensivet clinic.

The portable mechanical ventilation machine is equipped with flow sensors and pressure alarms. It can automatically detect the respiratory rate, support the regulation of air volume and the respiratory cycle, and even allow the valves to be adapted in order to meet the requirements of a normal ventilation machine.

Authorities have carried out pre-clinical tests on robots at the Health Simulation Center, in vitro subjects, and recently on live animals such as pigs to verify the volume of air supplied by the ventilator.

During the following 72 hours, the pig will be closely monitored by the researchers to evaluate the resistance capacity of the respirator. After that, human trial will be conducted.

“A prototype has been successfully built. Initial tests are carried out in vitro to see how the mechanical ventilator reacts. Now we are testing it on live biological subjects and then we have to adapt some validation protocols so that we can say that the device is safe to be used on humans,” said intensive care physician Jorge Espitaleta, coordinator of the Care Center for COVID-19 patients.

Espitaleta added that “in the event of a massive emergency, as has happened in other parts of the world,” it is urgent for doctors to have a means to connect a patient to a ventilator.

“These efforts are very important because we have a finite and limited number of ventilators… we have to be prepared,” he said.

In this phase, the trial was carried out on pigs because they have a lung capacity similar to that of humans, and the information obtained will serve to study the possible application of the device in patients infected with the novel coronavirus.

“The pig allows us, due to its similarity to our respiratory system, to pass this information to human patients. The pig does not suffer from physical involvement since it is anesthetized. We are monitoring the parameters of blood pressure, oxygenation and carbon dioxide to see that the patient is in normal physiological parameters. We are not doing any surgical procedure or causing any pain,” said veterinary doctor Andrés Rodríguez.

The Costa Rican Chamber of Pig Farmers donated two pigs weighing approximately 80 kilograms, which were brought to the capital from the country’s northern border, to support research.

The research team is working to validate the capacity of the ventilator when there is resistance in the air passage, a symptom presented in patients with pulmonary fibrosis.

Costa Rica has so far been able to flatten the curve to control an exponential increase in new COVID-19 infections, with 761 cases and six deaths confirmed within the two months after the first case was detected in the country. EFE-EPA


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