Within two weeks of launching the CaRE-Vent project, the team was already testing and validating a ventilator prototype. All members of the group say they would not have progressed so far so quickly if not for cross-university collaboration. Lee’s group is working closely with a team led by Landon Grace, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State.
“The CaRE-Vent project is a perfect example of collaboration. There are so many different components of the project that one group would just not have the expertise to do on its own,” said Grace. “Because we need to move so fast, you have to find people to join the team that already have the expertise, know what they’re doing and can contribute immediately. And that’s what we’ve been able to do. It’s been incredible.”
Knowing their individual strengths, UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State rely on each other and expertly perform their respective parts. Carolina brings the medical expertise drawn from physicians and researchers at the UNC School of Medicine, plus faculty and students with advanced knowledge in 3D printing, laser cutting, CNC work and rapid prototyping capabilities. NC State is working through the mechanical design, fatigue testing, and the creation and testing of a positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) valve for the ventilator.
“The NC State team gives us the confidence that if we need a higher level of engineering, or access to a very specific engineering tool that UNC doesn’t have, it’s a quick phone call,” said Lee. “With a background as a mechanical engineer, I know if I need to walk through an engineering principle that I want to verify or validate, it’s a quick touchstone to walk through that with Landon’s team.”
Adds Grace, “The sense of urgency is something we don’t really ever see, and I have been amazed as to how it’s brought out the best in every member of the team. The communication, collaboration and the speed at which it’s happening is something I would not have predicted.”
Dayton says everyone involved is rallying together to do something bigger than they could do by themselves. “The team is working really hard because they think they can make a difference and potentially save lives, and that’s been the spirit of everyone working together,” said Dayton. “We’re going to do our best job as fast as we can because it can make an immediate difference. It’s been a really positive environment.”
Lee’s team received advice and design suggestions from other faculty at the UNC School of Medicine, including Jason Akulian, MD, assistant professor of medicine and director of interventional pulmonology; and Thomas Bice, MD, assistant professor of medicine and medical director of adult respiratory therapy. Equipment borrowed from his research collaborators, David Fleischman, MD, an assistant professor of ophthalmology, and Jennifer Goralski, MD, an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics and member of the Marsico Lung Institute, helped move the design process forward. And experts from UNC Health, including Thomas Devlin, a respiratory therapy clinical specialist, and Tracy Roberts-Brazil, a clinical educator in respiratory therapy, also provided critical insights to the CaRE-Vent group.
Collaboration with innovative industry partners, like Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions, also provides real-world expertise in manufacturing processes and efficiencies to help inform the design. “We’re used to working with some of the most successful retailers in the world, now helping them operate and deliver essential services to the communities in which they operate,” said Fredrik Carlegren, vice president of marketing. “We are thrilled to collaborate with UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State teams to build prototypes to support their design and ultimately do good for our community and those in need.”