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Team 3D Prints 100 Ventilator Valves In 24 Hours To Save COVID-19 Patients' Lives

As you've no doubt experienced since measures against the spread of COVID-19 began in earnest, some supplies are pretty hard to get our hands on right now.

We've long had to deal with the scourge of panic buying that has left us without many sources of toilet paper, but you may have also noticed a lot of other bare shelves in your local grocery stores.

As stress-inducing as this can be, however, there's an even more serious shortage underway in Italy, which is now dealing with the worst coronavirus outbreak outside of China.

As Reuters reported, the nation's healthcare system now finds itself under critical strain as an overwhelming number of patients now need intensive care.

Thankfully, one tech start-up has taken notice of how this crisis has affected the supply of crucial medical devices.

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As we know, COVID-19 has the most serious implications for a patient's lungs, which is creating a massive supply issue for Italian hospitals.

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As Reuters reported, some are experiencing shortages of a valve that connects oxygen masks to respirators.

As Cristian Fracassi, founder of start-up firm Isinnova said, "They’re called Venturi valves and are impossible to find at the moment, production can’t keep up with demand."

Fracassi learned through word-of-mouth that this issue was affecting his local hospital in Chiari, Italy.

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According to the BBC, the problem for the 250 COVID-19 patients there in dire need of this valve is that they're only designed to be used for a maximum of eight hours.

Once Fracassi was put in contact with hospital staff and confirmed that suppliers couldn't replace them fast enough, he raced over with a mechanical engineer named Alessandro Romaioli.

After they had examined the valve for themselves, they set to work using their firm's 3D printers to create a usable alternative.


As the BBC reported, they were able to return with a prototype three hours later. After a test on a patient, hospital staff discovered that their 3D printed version worked and the pair stepped up efforts to make more.

Although each valve only costs about a dollar to produce, the problem was that each one also took an hour to make and Isinnova only had six 3D printers.

Since time was of the essence, Isinnova teamed up with another 3D printing comany called Lonati to meet the hospital's demand.

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Although his firm's design has been proven to work, Fracassi has not made it publicly available due to the difficulty in replicating the thin holes and tubes in the valve, as well as the risk of contamination.

PC Mag also reported that Fracassi and Romaioli had to reverse engineer the design since the existing schematics for that are the property of another company.

Despite the challenges Isinnova faced, however, they and Lonati were able to produce 100 3D-printed valves in 24 hours.

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As Reuters reported, at least 10 patients were already using these valves on the day Fracassi delivered them.

Fracassi told the BBC that a second hospital has already contacted him for more valves and Isinnova seems poised to continue producing them despite the fact that nobody in the office had slept for two days by then.

He also said, "I’m not going to charge the hospital ... It was the least I could do to help doctors and nurses who work all day long to save human lives."

By this point, you have heard that the valve's original manufacturer is threatening to sue Isinnova because the valve they're producing for $1 is supposed to cost $11,000.

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As PC Mag reported, however, both the manufacturer and Fracassi have confirmed that no such threat has ever occurred.

The manufacturer, Intersurgical, has also confirmed that this $11,000 price tag isn't accurate either, as managing director Charles Bellm said, "The valve is an accessory supplied as part of a CPAP Hood system which alone costs a few euros."

So there's no need to break out any torches or pitchforks over this matter.

h/t: BBC, Reuters

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